Campus News

Hairless squirrels invade Bethel

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As winter holds tight its grip on Indiana, Bethel students may have noticed that something seems amiss. Those cute and cuddly squirrels the school is known for seem to be losing hair faster than a middle-aged man. Is it mange? A zombie disease? The answer is rather tame, and surprisingly, not likely mange. “Squirrels can get a type of mange called notoedric mange,” said environmental buff and Assistant Professor of Biology Katie Weakland. “It’s a mite that gets under their skin and it causes them to itch so they scratch and lose their hair.” A more probable possibility, she said, is a fungal disease called dermatophytosis, which is caused by damp weather. Given Indiana’s wet fall and fox squirrels’ tendency to nest in groups, it’s a likely fit. “Usually you’ll have two, three, four squirrels that are in a nest and when that happens, the possibility of passing the disease back and forth is really high,” Weakland said. “We actually have a pretty high density of squirrels on our campus… so you combine the wet weather, sleeping in nests together, high density, that’s what it is- it’s just a skin disease happening.” Fortunately, this isn’t a long-lasting problem. The squirrels recover each summer, most likely due to drier weather and no longer sharing nests. “In the long run, it probably won’t have much of an effect on the population,” Weakland said. The main concern she had was that hair loss can take its toll in the heavy Indiana winters. Exposure to the cold temperatures means that survival rates go down. However, squirrels breed heavily and the Bethel population will most likely not suffer. As for students, Weakland emphasized the importance of leaving the local wildlife alone. “I don’t think humans can get these fungal diseases, but you never know, it’s best to stay away from wildlife,” she said. “There are possibilities of getting diseases and they’re wild and we want them to stay wild.”
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