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 with Rob Miskosky

Shoulder Mites?

I began to slow the snowmobile as we approached our next coyote set. My son Dakota was riding on the musher of the sled behind me when he suddenly blurted out, “We got one! Look at the size of that thing!”

I scanned through the maze of poplar trees looking for the telltale pink ribbon that marked our set. I was trying to see what he was seeing when my eyes fell upon a large coyote lying at the base of a poplar tree that held our snare. There lay what looked to be a prime coyote, and a big one at that.

I stopped the snowmobile and we quickly gathered the necessary tools for coyote removal and snare replacement from the interior of the sled. We then made our way through the deep snow, trying to avoid following in the steps of the dead coyote’s trail. The coyote was lying belly side towards us. Its long white belly fur was in prime condition and I remarked to Dakota that we’d caught a good one. That was until I reached down and turned the coyote over and onto its other side.

The loss of guard hair between the coyote's
shoulders renders the pelt useless.
Over the years, I have spent considerable time trapping coyotes for landowners in various parts of the province, but mostly to the west where mixed forests gradually give way to the more dense spruce and pine that make up Alberta’s foothills. Here, as in most parts of Alberta, coyote populations are abundant and most ranchers have an appropriate rifle at close hand—there is no love lost between coyote and cattle rancher in these parts.

In one particular area I trapped, the ranchers had a problem with coyotes and they wanted them dead... all of them. One told the story of a cow becoming mired in mud on the edge of a lake and unable to pull itself free, coyotes had decided to make a meal of its hindquarters. Only the cows bawling brought the rancher to the scene where the ghastly discovery was made and the cow put down. Another was losing sheep on regular occasion while another just hated anything canid, including a non-rancher neighbour’s dog who I found out he’d once shot in the neck for chasing his cows. The non-rancher neighbour confirmed the story to me, still not knowing who had shot her dog. Amazingly, the dog survived. I never told her I knew who had done the deed, not wanting to start a Hatfield-McCoy feud between neighbours.

Over time, I caught many coyotes for these ranchers but was never very happy with my results; for every 10 coyotes I caught, four had to be discarded because of mange—a nasty skin disease caused by parasitic mites that almost always ends badly for the coyote.

Recently in Alberta, a new affliction has reared its ugly head, or in this case, shoulders. I had been hearing reports from trappers about something called “shoulder mites”, where the guard hair between the shoulders of infested animals was gone. Personally, I had never seen this before and never gave it much thought until I caught the coyote in the photo at left.

Concerned that I was now going to have to deal with both mange and shoulder mites in my caught coyotes, I contacted Provincial Wildlife Disease Specialist, Dr. Margo Pybus. I wanted to know what was going on. Margo informed me that she had been receiving similar reports from other trappers and that in fact, trappers in the Peace River region were reporting it in wolves as well.

“My best guess is dog louse,” said Margo, who can’t be sure unless she can examine the affected hide. “The hair pattern seems to fit.”

According to Margo, dog louse are common on domestic dogs throughout Alberta and may have spilled over to coyotes and wolves.

“It’s certainly not mites,” said Margo, putting an end to the “shoulder mites” theory.

In the early 1980s, lice appeared in wolves on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska. A push went on there to contain the lice to keep it off the mainland. Unfortunately, efforts failed and Alaska now has “lousy” wolves in many parts of the state. It was believed to have been passed from sled dogs.

Unfortunately for trappers, a coyote or wolf infected with lice is useless, as the most important part of the pelt is damaged. It should be noted that lice from wildlife do not infest people. However, Margo stresses that dog louse is merely speculation at this time and she can’t be sure without further examination of affected animals.

Trappers can help Margo get a definitive answer by removing a swatch of infested hide, as well as part of the hide that isn’t affected closest to the infested section. The swatch should be labeled (date, location, your contact info, and host species) bagged and frozen. Margo can be reached by email at and she will inform you where to send your sample. ■

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