JCSET | Watershed Studies Institute Research Symposium

Title

"Understanding Relationships Between Stress, Snake Fungal Disease, and Parasitism in Wild Cottonmouth Snake Populations

Presenter Information

Emma Fehlker CampbellFollow

Academic Level at Time of Presentation

Junior

Major

Wildlife and Conservation Biology

List all Project Mentors & Advisor(s)

Mr. John B. Hewlett, Dr. Andrea K Darracq, PhD

Presentation Format

Oral Presentation

Abstract/Description

Chronically raised stress levels are known to correlate with decreased immune function in vertebrates, possible leading to increased susceptibility to infections including parasitism and Snake Fungal Disease (SFD). Helminth endoparasites and Hemoparasites are frequently found in wild populations but little is known about their physiological effects. Additionally, parasite infection may have interactive effects with diseases including SFD. To our knowledge few studies have assessed potential interactions between SFD and parasites in snakes. Thus, the objective of our study is to assess the individual and interactive effects of Helminth endoparasites, hemoparasites, and snake fungal disease on cottonmouth physiological stress. We are using two measures of stress; corticosterone (CORT), which is the primary stress hormone excreted by cottonmouths, and Heterophil to Leucocytes (H/L) ratios in the blood, which generally correlate with CORT levels. We collected 20 cottonmouths (> 300 g) from three populations in Western Kentucky. Within 3 – 5 minutes of capture we collected blood from the caudal vein of each snake to quantify baseline CORT. Additionally, helminth presence was determined by counting parasites in the oral lining, snakes were assessed for lesions consistent with SFD, and each snake was swabbed for future determination of SFD status using qPCR. From each blood sample, a thin smear was made using Giemsa-Wright stain. Using the smear, parasite load was determined, and H/L ratios were determined under 1000x magnification. We will present preliminary results from these data.

Spring Scholars Week 2021 Event

Watershed Studies Institute Symposium

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"Understanding Relationships Between Stress, Snake Fungal Disease, and Parasitism in Wild Cottonmouth Snake Populations

Chronically raised stress levels are known to correlate with decreased immune function in vertebrates, possible leading to increased susceptibility to infections including parasitism and Snake Fungal Disease (SFD). Helminth endoparasites and Hemoparasites are frequently found in wild populations but little is known about their physiological effects. Additionally, parasite infection may have interactive effects with diseases including SFD. To our knowledge few studies have assessed potential interactions between SFD and parasites in snakes. Thus, the objective of our study is to assess the individual and interactive effects of Helminth endoparasites, hemoparasites, and snake fungal disease on cottonmouth physiological stress. We are using two measures of stress; corticosterone (CORT), which is the primary stress hormone excreted by cottonmouths, and Heterophil to Leucocytes (H/L) ratios in the blood, which generally correlate with CORT levels. We collected 20 cottonmouths (> 300 g) from three populations in Western Kentucky. Within 3 – 5 minutes of capture we collected blood from the caudal vein of each snake to quantify baseline CORT. Additionally, helminth presence was determined by counting parasites in the oral lining, snakes were assessed for lesions consistent with SFD, and each snake was swabbed for future determination of SFD status using qPCR. From each blood sample, a thin smear was made using Giemsa-Wright stain. Using the smear, parasite load was determined, and H/L ratios were determined under 1000x magnification. We will present preliminary results from these data.