I recently read a newspaper article about sightings of “zombie coyotes” in suburban Chicago.  These sightings were thought to be of coyotes suffering with mange.  Authorities, however, reported these animals were actually sick stray dogs.

Mange occurs in coyotes and other mammals in North Dakota as well, and I suspect that many of you have probably seen a fox or coyote with the mange.  Sarcoptic mange is caused by a microscopic mite (Sarcoptes scabiei).  It has been documented in over 100 mammalian species, including fox, coyotes, and wolves.  The condition is also known as scabies, or canine scabies when it affects members of the dog family.

Mange begins when the female mite burrows under the animal’s skin to lay eggs.  The larvae and nymphs then continue to tunnel under the skin.  All this mite activity leads to inflammation and an allergic reaction.  The skin begins to itch, and bacterial infections or parasitic infections may follow.  This can result in hair loss, and thick, wrinkled, scabby, and/or crusty skin with a foul odor.

It should be noted that there are different forms of mange caused by different mites, which burrow into the skin or hair follicles.  The results are much the same, however.

Mange is highly contagious.  It may spread through direct contact, or when mammals share a nest or burrow.  Furthermore, if the mites should fall off the host, they can survive for several weeks before coming in contact with another host.

Animals suffering from the mange may be missing hair from parts of their body, and look emaciated and become lethargic.  The condition may be fatal, particularly during the winter months.  It may also be fatal indirectly through secondary infections.

Dogs can contract mange.  So can humans.  Trappers, veterinarians, animal herders and others that work closely with animals are at greater risk for contracting mange.  Precautions to reduce the chance of contracting mange when working with infested animals includes wearing disposable or rubber gloves, washing hands and or showering thoroughly, or the use of disinfectants.  If symptoms do develop, it is best to seek medical attention.

The fox and coyotes we see in North Dakota generally look healthy.  Nevertheless, occasionally an animal missing patches of hair and acting rather lethargic may be observed.  I am not sure “zombie” would be a very accurate or descriptive term, but “mangy” would be.

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Dakota College at Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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