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Things are going well in the field, although the heat is really slowing everything down. Yes, extreme heat without rain can actually slow a reptile down. We reached our 100th turtle this week and sampling is going well. I’m having a really good time and becoming more and more comfortable with the turtles despite the heat!
I thought I would take some time out to share how I got involved in this project. My mentor, Dr. Matt Allender, is studying diseases that have the potential to be fatal to turtles. Ranavirus is one of the diseases he is most interested in. It is one of the causes of well-publicized amphibian declines across the world. It has also been attributed to some turtle die-offs in the world.
We are collecting oral swabs from the box turtles, and also some species of aquatic turtles, so that we can run a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to determine if a turtle has the disease. Collecting these samples have been challenging, try and get a turtle to say AHH!
Through the physical exam I perform, I look for signs of disease in a turtle, such as spots on the roof of their mouth that might indicate sickness. In addition to spots in the mouth, turtles with Ranavirus appear like they have a cold – runny eyes, snotty noses, and a general feeling of sickness.
When this disease first appears in a population, it likely leads to massive die-offs that could cause population declines. This is why it so important to look for the answers of where, why, when, and who gets these diseases.
For more information I have included a link to an article on Ranavirus infections in box turtles, http://www.jwildlifedis.org/cgi/content/full/44/4/851
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