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Keywords:

  • Methylmercury;
  • Avian eggs;
  • Egg injections;
  • Avian embryo;
  • Teratogenic effects

Abstract

Controlled laboratory studies with game farm mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and chickens (Gallus gallus) have demonstrated that methylmercury can cause teratogenic effects in birds, but studies with wild species of birds are lacking. To address this need, doses of methylmercury chloride were injected into the eggs of 25 species of birds, and the dead embryos and hatched chicks were examined for external deformities. When data for controls were summed across all 25 species tested and across all types of deformities, 24 individuals out of a total of 1,533 (a rate of 1.57%) exhibited at least one deformity. In contrast, when data for all of the mercury treatments and all 25 species were summed, 188 deformed individuals out of a total of 2,292 (8.20%) were found. Some deformities, such as lordosis and scoliosis (twisting of the spine), misshapen heads, shortening or twisting of the neck, and deformities of the wings, were seldom observed in controls but occurred in much greater frequency in Hg-treated individuals. Only 0.59% of individual control dead embryos and hatchlings exhibited multiple deformities versus 3.18% for Hg-dosed dead embryos and hatchlings. Methylmercury seems to have a widespread teratogenic potential across many species of birds. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2011; 30:1593–1598. © 2011 SETAC