What’s in the coyote’s ears?
Jill Girgulis, a student from Bishop Carroll High School, Calgary tried to answer this question when she took on a 6 weeks research project in Dr. Susan Kutz’s wildlife parasitology laboratory at the University of Calgary, this summer. Jill was selected through Heritage Youth Researcher Summer Program (HYRS) of the Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions (AIHS). She is interested in dermatology as a career so for her summer research project she focused on veterinary dermatology, investigating agents that cause inflammation or infection in the ears of wild coyotes. During this time, Jill worked closely with the University of Calgary Veterinary Medicine graduate students Drs. Guilherme Verocai and Larissa Condas.
The main objective of her study was to examine coyote ear samples (collected from the surrounding areas of Hays, Alberta and Saltcoats, Saskatchewan) for the presence of ear mites, Otodectes cynotis, an ectoparasite that infests many canids but has never been discovered in coyotes. Although she did not find O. cynotis in any of the ear samples, she found other potential pathogens. These included: another agent, the yeast, Malassezia sp., in 96% of the coyotes; two cases of chewing lice (Trichodectes canis); and one flea, Foxella ignota albertensis, for which pocket gophers are the only previously reported host. Of the coyotes that tested positive for Malassezia, 63% had ‘abnormal’ proliferation of the yeast. Malassezia sp. has previously been recorded from the skin of coyotes, but never from the ears.
The broad area of wildlife parasitology research was opened up to Jill thanks to her summer experience with the HYRS Program. In addition, she learned about various other ongoing studies in wildlife parasitology in the CCWHC. Working in a veterinary laboratory proved to be a very different experience than Jill had expected going into the summer. She is extremely grateful to the HYRS Program, the CCWHC, and the members of the Kutz laboratory to have had such a unique opportunity and we were thrilled to have such a bright and enthusiastic student join the team!