Scotland’s red squirrels are facing a new threat from a form of leprosy, according to scientists in Edinburgh.
Six cases caused by a bacteria similar to Mycobacterium lepromatosis have been confirmed in the squirrels since 2006.
It is the first time the disease has been found in the species and little is known about the spread of the potentially fatal disease.
Scientists are urging the public to report sightings of squirrels which may be suffering from the condition.
They said the information would help them build up a more detailed understanding of the disease.
There is no suggestion of any risk to human health.
Infected animals have been found from Dumfries and Galloway to the Moray Firth.
Symptoms include hair loss and severe swelling to the snout, eyelids, ears and feet.
Prof Anna Meredith of the Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies at Edinburgh University is leading the research.
She told BBC Scotland: “We suspect this disease is more widespread than the six cases we have confirmed.
“Red squirrels are in decline. They are threatened by the grey squirrel and already face the major threat of the squirrelpox virus.
“This is the last thing that they need – another disease which could potentially threaten the population.”
Researchers in Edinburgh said dead red squirrels could be sent to them by post provided they were appropriately packaged.
But they advised members of the public to follow basic hygiene rules before and after handling dead squirrels.