JCSET | Watershed Studies Institute Research Symposium

Title

Assessing Relationships between Parasitism, Disease, and Health Biomarkers in Snakes

Academic Level at Time of Presentation

Senior

Major

Wildlife and Conservation Biology

List all Project Mentors & Advisor(s)

Mr. John B Hewlett, Dr. Andrea K Darracq

Presentation Format

Oral Presentation

Abstract/Description

Parasites are frequently found in wild snake populations, but little is known about their physiological effects. The objectives of our study were to assess the individual and interactive effects of helminth endoparasites and hemoparasites on cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorous) health and relationships between hemoparasites, snake fungal disease (SFD), and timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) health. We collected 33 cottonmouths (> 300 g) from three populations in Western Kentucky and sampled eight timber rattlesnakes (> 500 g) longitudinally from a single population in western Kentucky. At collection, we obtained a < 0.5 mL blood sample from each snake within 3 minutes. For rattlesnakes only, we obtained a second blood sample 60 minutes post-capture. We used enzyme linked immunosorbent assays to quantify baseline (< 3 min sample) and elevated (60 min sample; timber rattlesnakes only) corticosterone (CORT), which is the primary glucocorticoid hormone excreted by snakes. From blood smears we assessed hemoparasite loads and the heterophil to lymphocyte (H:L) ratios, which are an indicator of an animal’s immune status and generally correlates with CORT levels. We counted the number of trematodes present in each cottonmouth’s mouth and swabbed all snakes to assess the presence of SFD. Analyses of these data are ongoing, and we will present preliminary results.

Spring Scholars Week 2022 Event

Watershed Studies Institute Symposium

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Assessing Relationships between Parasitism, Disease, and Health Biomarkers in Snakes

Parasites are frequently found in wild snake populations, but little is known about their physiological effects. The objectives of our study were to assess the individual and interactive effects of helminth endoparasites and hemoparasites on cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorous) health and relationships between hemoparasites, snake fungal disease (SFD), and timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) health. We collected 33 cottonmouths (> 300 g) from three populations in Western Kentucky and sampled eight timber rattlesnakes (> 500 g) longitudinally from a single population in western Kentucky. At collection, we obtained a < 0.5 mL blood sample from each snake within 3 minutes. For rattlesnakes only, we obtained a second blood sample 60 minutes post-capture. We used enzyme linked immunosorbent assays to quantify baseline (< 3 min sample) and elevated (60 min sample; timber rattlesnakes only) corticosterone (CORT), which is the primary glucocorticoid hormone excreted by snakes. From blood smears we assessed hemoparasite loads and the heterophil to lymphocyte (H:L) ratios, which are an indicator of an animal’s immune status and generally correlates with CORT levels. We counted the number of trematodes present in each cottonmouth’s mouth and swabbed all snakes to assess the presence of SFD. Analyses of these data are ongoing, and we will present preliminary results.