Fox squirrel found with mange at Big Cypress National Preserve

January 19, 2023

The von Arx Wildlife Hospital is part of and located at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Please call 239.262.2273 for native wildlife assistance.

A fox squirrel was among the thirty-five animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital this past week. Other admissions include a blue jay, a blue-gray gnatcatcher, a common grackle, a Connecticut warbler, a gopher tortoise and a Brazilian free-tailed bat.

Staff at Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery in Big Cypress National Preserve called the von Arx Wildlife Hospital concerned about a fox squirrel they were seeing at the gallery. The squirrel was missing a significant amount of fur along its back and sides and although numerous signs are posted instructing visitors not to feed wildlife, gallery staff were concerned because visitors were feeding the fox squirrel causing it to become habituated to people. 

Gallery staff caught the fox squirrel in a live trap and transported the squirrel to the Conservancy. Hospital staff performed a physical exam on the squirrel; the squirrel was alert, active and very growly during the exam, yet was significantly underweight. Staff performed a skin scrap that confirmed the squirrel had mange. 

Mange is a contagious skin disease caused by mites. Animals affected by mange can experience intense itchiness, hair thinning and loss, thickened skin and scabbing.

Severely affected animals will become thin and lethargic. It can be difficult for wild animals affected by mange to find enough food to meet their daily calorie requirements needed to maintain their health while fighting off the disease. It is not surprising the afflicted fox squirrel had been coming near visitors at the gallery looking for handouts.

Fox squirrel with mange in enclosure

Von Arx Hospital staff administered medication to kill the mites and placed the fox squirrel in a large recovery enclosure in quarantine away from other mammals. The squirrel received a diet ad lib. Handling is being kept to a minimum since the squirrel is so active. Typically, multiple dosages of medication to kill the mites will be required since the mites may be in different life stages on an animal. 

People who feed wildlife often have good intentions, yet don’t realize the many negative consequences that can result from their actions. Animals that receive handouts from humans can suffer a loss of foraging skills and young animals may not learn to hunt and forage on their own.

When the handouts stop, the animal may starve. Animals may become habituated and lose their fear of humans and become aggressive toward people.

In the case of this fox squirrel, it was reported he bit a young girl when she was hand feeding him. Often times, animals that become too aggressive may have to be destroyed to protect people and property. The food humans provide to wildlife rarely consists of natural food items the animal would find in the wild so is often nutritionally unbalanced. Lastly, feeding wildlife can lead to unnaturally high concentrations of animals in one area meaning diseases can spread more easily. 

Please, never feed wildlife; it will prevent dangerous situations from occurring and will keep wildlife wild. If you are concerned for the welfare of an animal, call the wildlife hospital for guidance.

Recent Releases

An anhinga, four eastern cottontails, a great blue heron, a red-shouldered hawk and four double-crested cormorants were released this past week. The recent cold weather caused a brief hiatus in releases until our more normal weather temperatures returned. 

Opportunities to Help

There are many ways to support the Conservancy; become a member, donate and visit our website at to see the many engaging volunteer opportunities at the Conservancy. Volunteers are essential to our success; by offering your time, talent and skills, you support the Conservancy’s work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

Joanna Fitzgerald is director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, 1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples, Florida 34102. Call 239-262-2273 or see