February 19, 2010

In the Spotlight- Recent Disease Investigation

From the Latest USGS National Wildlife Health Center Quarterly Wildlife Mortality Report

Unusual morbidity and mortality in Lake Erie water snakes (Ohio)
Photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service

Around the beginning of July 2009, several dead Lake Erie water snakes (Nerodia sipedon insularum) were found floating in the water without obvious signs of trauma. Sick snakes were weak and lacked a righting reflex when placed on their backs. Subsequent submissions in late August presented with small blister-like lesions rather than neurologic signs.

Of the eleven snakes submitted to NWHC, no singular cause of death could be determined. Snakes experienced mortality from trauma, dystocia, malignant leukemia, and bacterial sepsis. Botulism type E was initially suspected as a cause in snakes with neurologic signs, due to the water snake’s diet consisting mainly of round gobies (Neogobius melanostomus) and links to botulism type E in water birds feeding on round gobies, but conventional tests for botulism were negative. The Lake Erie water snake lives offshore on islands in western Lake Erie and is federally listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

For the full report on other interesting disease investigations, get the USGS National Wildlife Health Center Quarterly Mortality Report for July - September 2009 here.

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