Mange is a type of skin condition that is mostly caused by parasitic mites burrowing under the host’s skin. Mites are parasitic because they feed and live on their host for survival. Mange is a common disease that usually itches and appears as blisters and wound on the squirrels’ skin, due to the poor conditions of their infected skin and fur.
Squirrels with mange are squirrels that experience constant loss of hair and breaking of fur due to the external parasite(mites) that lives on their skin leading to alopecia and itchy skin conditions.
The fungus of this mange is known as Notoedries douglasi, a critical condition that is common to gray squirrels. Notoedric mange is a parasite disease caused by the presence of microscopic mites called Notoedres centrifera in the skin, this parasite digs microscopic “tunnel” in the squirrel’s skin and creates irritation. This parasitic infection is host-specific and does not colonize non-hosts such as humans.
The western gray squirrels are the most affected species by the mange, followed by the eastern squirrels and the fox squirrels as discovered in the United States. Among these squirrels, mange is easily contacted and being spread due to the direct contact and cohabitations and their nest.
An adult squirrel can survive the mange if it is in otherwise good condition and can manage the situation. That is why their treatment is not necessarily recommended because of reinfection from their nests. Although the mange can be fatal or go beyond the squirrel’s control during the winter period as a result of exposure to the cold weather. During the winter period, squirrels are vulnerable to predators because they are less active and weak.
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They are also vulnerable to numerous parasites and diseases such as ticks, fleas, mites, internal parasites, and mange. All these parasites burrow into the squirrel’s skin feed on its subcutaneous tissue, thereby bringing irritation to their skin.
SYMPTOMS OF SQUIRRELS WITH MANGE
- Constant loss of hair
- Dry and thickened skin
- Itchy skin with an infectious appearance
- Diminished growth
- Sore skin with a lot of blisters and bruises
All these symptoms are commonly found in squirrels with mange. You can easily see mange-infested squirrels walking slowly or just sleeping helplessly beside a tree, this is because the infection has weakened them and making them susceptible.
CONSEQUENCES OF MANGE IN SQUIRRELS
Most squirrels with mange are vulnerable to predators and ended up being prey. They are most likely to be exposed to the chance of being attacked or harmed physically, despite being a strong and active animals.
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Squirrels are known to be good-looking animals with their lush hairy skin, but when they are infested with mange they look thin, old, and haggard.
This is a state of mental and physical weakness. The squirrels at this period are weak, unhealthy, and feeble.
When they are exposed to danger, they are liable to die at that period. Also, the squirrels are inactive during the winter period, and when they are also infested with mange they are prone to die quickly due to their hairless skin. It is discovered that there are lots of squirrels with mange found dead especially during the winter period.
Mange in squirrels should be adequately diagnosed based on an examination because there can be other causes of these fungal infections such as post-stress molting problems and genetic abnormalities.
Jessica Watson is a PHD holder from the University of Washington. She studied behavior and interaction between squirrels and has presented her research in several wildlife conferences including TWS Annual Conference in Winnipeg.