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Family truths exposed

September 15, 2022

Traveling around the district on my daily cycle ride gives me the opportunity to photograph some amazing fauna but sometimes one comes across a tragic sight (pictured below left), a wombat with mange. Mange is caused by the parasitic mite Sarcoptes scabiei. The female mite burrows under the skin of the host and lays eggs. When the eggs hatch it causes extreme discomfort. In humans this is called scabies.

Parasitic mites were thought to have been introduced to Australia from Europe on the livestock of the first settlers. In addition to wombats mange is known to affect wallabies, koalas, ring-tailed possums and bandicoots. Wombats seem to be the most affected because their burrows provide good conditions (cool and humid) for the survival of the mite if it doesn’t have a host. In addition wombats with overlapping territories are known to share burrows making mite transfer between animals easy.

 Successive generations of mites cause thickening of the skin and hair loss in the host. Excessive scratching by the animal then results in open wounds and the possibility of secondary infection (see photo above). In severe cases mange can cause the death of the animal. Unfortunately there is no method to eliminate these mites in the wild although individual animals can be treated with chemicals such as moxydectin.

Not to trivialise the mitey problem that mange creates in the wombat community, when I was a child I had (like most kids) an inseparable toy. Mine was a koala called Ted (I was not known for my originality), pictured right. My mum always told me that Ted was in the state he was in because I’d ‘loved all the fur off him’. I now suspect that Ted had mange. Another family myth exploded!

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