Thomas Sprigg Wootton High SchoolClass of 2023North Potomac, Maryland
- "How does sarcoptic mange affect wolf physiology, behavior, and population dynamics?" with mentor Kate (Sept. 22, 2022)
How does sarcoptic mange affect wolf physiology, behavior, and population dynamics?
Started May 16, 2022
Abstract or project description
Sarcoptic mange is an epizootic skin disease caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei. It is perhaps the most prevalent and most conspicuous ectoparasite found in wild gray wolves (Canis lupus), though its extreme host adaptability allows it to infest other canids, such as foxes and coyotes, and over 100 different mammalian species. Scabiei mites burrow into and under the epidermis of the affected animal, causing intense irritation as a result of an allergic reaction to the mite’s feces. All active stages of the mite’s life cycle can burrow into the skin, but the most common culprit in sarcoptic mange is the fertilized adult female mite, which lays its eggs inside the burrow. The burrowing and resulting allergic reaction leads to pruritis (itchy sensation), alopecia (hair loss), hyperkeratosis (thickening of the skin), seborrhea (flaky skin), and scab formation. Sarcoptic mange, like most parasitic diseases, is rarely lethal, but cases of host mortality typically result from secondary bacterial infections facilitated by a weakened immune system or exposure to the elements due to severe hair loss. Wolves with severe late-stage mange show extreme emaciation, with significantly less body fat and mass compared to mange-free wolves. Scabiei mites are easily spread among members of a pack due to the wolf’s proclivity for contact-based social interaction, and severe sarcoptic mange outbreaks in the blizzard conditions of winter can decimate a pack. Despite its pervasiveness among wolves and its pathological potential to influence wolf population dynamics, the impact of sarcoptic mange on wolves is still a relatively obscure and infrequently discussed topic in scientific literature. This literature review article will outline the known effects of sarcoptic mange on wolf physiology and behavior, summarize current and past important scientific literature on sarcoptic mange in wolves, and evaluate the effects of sarcoptic mange on the health, status, and conservation of wild gray wolf populations.