Jun 27, 2024

From Potato to Chipmunk

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After mistaking him for a potato, this chipmunk's finder didn't know whether he would recover. Luckily, she got him to DCHS's Wildlife Center.

“I have to say, I didn’t have much hope for recovery,” says Jo Temte, the finder of an eastern chipmunk in distress.

“On October 23rd last year, I was filling a bird feeder when I spotted something strange under my feet,” Jo recalls. “At first glance, it looked like a rather rotted potato, and I thought maybe the squirrels had pulled it out of the compost pile.

“But then I saw it move and realized the ‘potato’ was slowly nibbling on a sunflower seed,” she continues. “I squatted down and had a very close look before I realized it was a chipmunk. Its nearly furless body looked wrinkled and inflamed, and it made no effort to get away.”

The chipmunk’s lack of effort to escape Jo is alarming to wildlife rehabilitators. We prefer to see wild animals strive to keep their distance from humans, as this behavior keeps both us and them safe.

“I wondered if it could possibly survive what I assumed was a horrible case of mange,” Jo says. Luckily, Jo has a special connection to Dane County Humane Society’s (DCHS’s) Wildlife Center. Jo is my mom, and I just happened to be home. Not wanting the chipmunk to run off, she called for me to come out and help.

It was clear this chipmunk needed specialized care.

“She quickly found a box, net, and gloves,” says Jo, “and was easily able to collect the little creature for rehabilitation.”

Although my mom only had to call me, an assistant wildlife rehabilitator, we ask that if members of the public find wild animals you think need help, visit

giveshelter.org/wildlife or call DCHS’s Wildlife Center at (608) 287-3235 for assistance before intervening.

Upon admission to DCHS’s Wildlife Center, our licensed rehabilitators diagnosed the chipmunk with a severe case of notoedric mange, a skin disease caused by parasitic mites. This particular strain of mange is very contagious, and it had caused the chipmunk’s alopecia, or hair loss, and seborrheic dermatitis, a scaly rash.

Fortunately, our skilled wildlife team is well experienced in the treatment of mange and annually treats many cases in multiple species of mammals. Despite the clear discomfort the chipmunk was in due to the intense itchiness caused by the mange mites, he was an enthusiastic eater — a promising sign wildlife rehabilitators love to see in their patients. He was fondly referred to by the unofficial moniker “Spud,” due to his, well… potato-like appearance.

During the following weeks, the chipmunk received treatment for parasites and inflammation, medications for pain management, and antibiotics for a secondary infection. He lost his scabs, slowly began regrowing his fur, and became increasingly difficult for staff to catch —another promising sign he was healing well.

By mid-November, the chipmunk’s coat had regrown, and he was cleared for release back to his home territory with its familiar tunnels and well-stocked bird feeders.

“On November 19th, Spud returned to our yard for release,” says Jo, “and the transformation was amazing! Now plump, furry, and healthy, he had no intention of hanging out any longer than necessary. As soon as Emily opened and tipped the box, he was gone.

“We are grateful to staff and volunteers for the excellent care this little creature received,” Jo continues. “Keep up the good work for Wisconsin’s wildlife!”

Emily Temte is an Assistant Wildlife Rehabilitator

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