Winter Has Been Hard on Wildlife Too!

Recently, two animals passed through my yard looking really awful. One was a young deer and one was a fox. I presumed that both had mange until I did some research and found that white tailed deer don’t generally get mange in my area. I felt a little better about that.

Two years ago we had a bout with mange in my house. One of my rescue dogs got it. We’re still not sure how, although the vet had some ideas. She never progressed to the shedding patches of fur stage (thank goodness) that you see in wildlife. She was just very itchy and eventually I caught on to what was happening because my husband and I both developed rashes from the microscopic mites that carry the mange.

The dog fared better (initially) with the treatment than we did. She was treated 3 times and recovered. My husband was treated for 4 months and I had to be treated for a whopping 8 months both topically and with pills. It was quite the adventure.

In wildlife, however, at least in winter, apparently, mange is ultimately fatal. I mention this because about a week ago a fox came to my pond to drink. It was one of the saddest looking foxes I have seen. Not only was it thin, but it was apparently infested with mange (yes, red foxes, along with coyotes, commonly do get that–see this fact sheet from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection).

My backyard pond is one of the few open bodies of water right now, unless it rains or if folks have heated bird baths–and those haven’t caught on around here. Our rivers, streams and lakes are pretty frozen still.

At any rate, this fox drank for quite a long time so I had a great chance to observe. And sadly, while it looked alert, it was very thin and had a very patchy coat. I felt very sorry for it.

Likewise, a deer passed through my yard two weeks or so ago. Again, I thought the same thing–the deer looks great but it’s fur was terribly patchy. Luckily, some research shows that white-tailed deer at least rarely, if ever, get mange. They may suffer from the presence of winter ticks–but surely not this winter! So perhaps what I was witnessing was the molting of its winter coat–although that seems a bit early to me.

Then again, what do I know? The starlings came back 6 weeks ago, and that seemed much too early to me as well. Presumably nature knows what its doing–that’s why I rely on the oak leaves to plant my tender plants, after all! And they have never failed me.

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