Strange Mystery Animal Spotted by Ohio River in Owensboro, Kentucky
Photos have surfaced of an unusual-looking animal that was spotted recently near the Ohio River in Owensboro, Kentucky.
What Kind of Creature Is This?
The poor thing looks like it is having a rough go at life. In fact, it is having such a rough time, that we are not even 100% sure what kind of animal it is. Although, we do have an educated guess...
But Really What Is It?
Clearly, the animal is some type of mammal, and likely one closely related to a canine. After doing a little internet sleuthing and making a few phone calls, we suspect that the animal in the photos is actually a member of the Canidae family of animals - or a fox.
Red or Gray?
It appears that this animal has something going on that has caused it to lose its fur (more on that in a minute!) Without its fur, and with me oversleeping the day they handed out biology degrees, I cannot say for sure if this is a Vulpes vulpes, commonly known as a Red Fox, or a Urocyon cinereoargenteus, better known as a Gray Fox but both species can be found in parts of Kentucky.
So Where Is Its Fur?
After deciding that this must be a fox (although it could also be a coyote - again, I was a broadcasting student, not a biology major), I made a phone call to Kristin Allen with Nurture to Nature Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, located in Western Kentucky. Kristin was nice enough to fill me in on what is likely going on with this animal. She tells me, "mange mites are highly prevalent in foxes."
What Exactly is Mange?
I have put my Google query skills to the test yet again because, beyond "it's a mite," that is all I really knew about mange but then Google led me to Wildlifecenter.org and they have an excellent explanation of what exactly Sarcoptic mange is. It turns out, it is the most common type of mange found in wildlife and is caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite. According to Wildlifecenter.org, this is what they do:
These mites burrow into the outer layer of an animal’s skin and form tunnels. Female mites lay eggs within the tunnels; within three days, larvae hatch and either move in the tunnels, or move to the surface of the infected animal’s skin. Within days to weeks, the larvae develop into nymphs, which then develop into adult mites – ready to repeat the cycle. Manage treatment can be difficult since larvae, nymphs, and adults can all be living on the same host in different life stages.
But Mange Itself Is Not Fatal
Our local expert, Kristin was also quick to point out to me that mange itself is not fatal to animals. Typically, it is secondary infections caused by the animal scratching and creating wounds on its body that ultimately lead to untimely deaths in wildlife infected with mange.
How Can You Help
When I asked Kristin what, specifically you and I could do to help, she was very emphatic with her answer:
"Don't use rodenticide poison!"
If the term rodenticide poison doesn't ring a bell, I would be willing to bet you still know what it is. In common speak, it is rat and mouse poison. I don't use poison for rodent control at home because I have a cat and I know that if my cat eats a mouse that has ingested poison, it could potentially be lethal to my cat. Most pet owners know these dangers.
Rodenticide: Beyond the Threat to Household Pets
While I know the dangers that rodenticide can pose to our household pets, I have never stopped to look at the bigger ecological implications that it could have. Rodents that have been poisoned with rodenticide usually take three to five days to actually die. During that time, their bodies begin to slowly shut down and they become much slower moving, making them easy prey for other animals like birds of prey, bobcats, and yes, even foxes.
What Does Rodenticide Have to Do With Foxes and Mange?
Kristin tells me that when a fox eats a rodent that has ingested rodenticide poison, the poison enters the fox's system and while not enough to actually kill the animal, what it does do is weaken the fox's immune system, making it difficult for its body to fight infections... like the secondary infections I mentioned earlier that can happen due to the self-inflicted wounds caused by scratching at the mange. This is why it is so important that we stop using rodenticide poison for rodent and pest control.
What To Do If You Discover a Fox, or Other Wild Mammal, with Mange
If you encounter a fox or other wild mammal with mange, you should contact a local registered and licensed wildlife rehabilitator. In Kentucky, you can find a list of rehabilitators on the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources website. In Indiana, you would check with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for a list of rehabilitators. If you live in any of the other 48 states, check your state's websites.
Western Kentucky Rehabilitators
If you live in Owensboro or Western Kentucky and you encounter a wild animal with mange or some other injury or illness, you can contact Kristin Allen with Nurture to Nature Wildlife Rehabilitation Center by calling 270-993-6022 or visit their website. You can also find Nurture to Nature on Facebook, and on TikTok too.
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