COMPLETED: Using thermal imagery to assess wolf hairloss from sarcoptic mange

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Researchers at NOROCK and their partners used thermal cameras at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in Montana to assess the amount of heat lost under a range of environmental conditions with and without hair. These methods help scientists better understand how mange operates in wild wolves throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Researchers at NOROCK and their partners used thermal cameras at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in Montana to assess the amount of heat lost under a range of environmental conditions with and without hair. On the thermal image, "cooler" blue tones indicate less heat emission, while "warmer" red tones indicate a heat emitting source. The color bar on the right is temperature in degrees Celsius.

Thermal image of wolves howling
Thermal imagery detects heat loss in wolves to help assess presence or severity of disease, such as mange. (Public domain.)

To simulate hairloss that occurs in the later stages of mange infection, patches are shaved on the wolves (red spot on hind leg) to allow the researchers to measure temperature loss from the hairless patches and compare this with temperature loss from natural fur. By helping out with this research the wolves in the enclosure are helping scientists better understand how mange operates in their wild counterparts throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The risk, severity, and duration of infection with mange are highly variable within Yellowstone's wolf population. Thermal imagery is one tools to assist researchers in measuring temperature loss from the mange patches (red) and compare this with temperature loss from natural fur (blues and greens). In addition, field crews attempt to observe or photograph all radio-collared individuals and their pack mates within Yellowstone National Park for the purpose of scoring infection status. Researchers hope to see if there are attributes of individuals or packs that might predispose them towards higher risk, greater severity, or longer duration of infection. To learn more visit, the dynamics and impacts of sarcoptic mange on Yellowstone's wolves.

In the next phase of the project, researchers collaborated with scientists with the Yellowstone Wolf Project to place thermal remote camera near the carcasses of deer and elk in the park to capture wolves feeding on the carcasses and record the extend of mange in the park's wolf packs.

Another novel approach to observe the extent of mange in the wolves of Yellowstone National Park, as well as develop a dynamic photo library of individual wolves within the park, is by citizen science. Researchers with Penn State University, USGS, and the Yellowstone Wolf Project have developed Yellowstone Wolf: Project Citizen Science to assist the project in collecting park visitor photographs of wolves, and accompanying data on date, location, ID (if known), and pack to answer questions about pack composition, individual histories, and individuals' infection status with mange.

 

Comparison of traditional and thermal imagery to show mange.
Thermal imagery is one tool to assist researchers in measuring temperature loss from the mange patches (red) and compare this with temperature loss from natural fur (blues and greens). As you can see in the two contrasting images, the hairless areas associated with mange are much easier to see using thermal imagery due to heat loss versus a standard photograph from a remote camera. Public domain