Seemingly straight out of an episode of the popular show The Walking Dead, recent sightings of hairless, scabbed over and decrepit looking whitetails in Minnesota has local residents and officials concerned. After the recent epidemic of EHD across the Midwest, whitetail hunters are growing increasingly worried about the impacts of disease on deer.
At the recent North American Whitetail Summit deer disease ranked as one of the top six issues impacting whitetails. That said, the first assumption many have jumped to regarding the cause of these "zombie deer" in Minnesota is mange. So, could whitetails in Minnesota be contracting mange? And, if so, what does that mean for whitetails and us?
While most often seen in coyotes, mange can, in fact, be found in whitetails. According to a report from the University of Missouri School of Natural Resources and Missouri Department of Conservation, "Although most deer will not show symptoms of mange, those that do will exhibit hair loss and skin thickening with small pus-filled lesions." Luckily, however, "mange does not cause a herd health issue and is not a concern for humans."
This description of mange seems to fit the symptoms seen in Minnesota, but Tom Rusch, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Manager working on this case, states that preliminary test results have come back without any sign of the mite that causes mange. One of the affected deer was put down last month and sent to the lab for testing. Results have been inconclusive thus far.
According to the wildlife health program supervisor handling the analysis, "the pathologist was not able to come up with anything to explain the hair loss. No infection, no microscopic parasites, nothing to go on."
While there currently isn't much evidence, several theories have emerged. One theory offered by the same wildlife health program manager is that the combination of a harsh winter and allergic reactions are to blame.
"Perhaps the hard winter and poor body condition (post-winter) had intensified the allergic reactions of some deer to external parasites (mites or lice), and the hair loss is due to self-grooming from this irritation."
Another theory that Rusch shared was that this hair loss and skin irritation could be caused by dietary factors. It has been found that dogs on a diet too heavy in corn have displayed similar symptoms. Supporting this theory is the fact that affected deer were sighted at emergency feeding areas this winter, where residents had been providing corn as supplemental food for deer struggling in the harsh conditions.
With the lack of a solid answer, it seems that this mystery is far from over. The Minnesota DNR is still investigating, while more impacted deer have been sighted in several counties. If you're in Minnesota and see deer with these symptoms, please contact your DNR representative as soon as possible.
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A Winter Shed Head
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Take a Load Off
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Hunting for All Ages
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Fetch the Bone
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About the Author
Mark Kenyon runs Wired To Hunt, one of the top deer hunting resources online, featuring daily deer hunting news, stories and strategies for the whitetail addict.