Effects of parasitic infection and radio-transmitters on condition, hematological characteristics and corticosterone concentrations in Texas ratsnakes

Authors


  • Editor: Tim Halliday

Correspondence
Jinelle H. Sperry, Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology, University of Illinois, 606 East Healey, Champaign, IL 61820, USA. Tel: +1 217 333 2235
Email: jhutch@illinois.edu

Abstract

Parasites are a health concern of many wildlife species, although their effect on reptiles is poorly studied. Here we examine effects of hemogregarine and external parasites on Texas ratsnake Elaphe obsoleta white blood cell (WBC) concentrations, WBC differentials, heterophil/lymphocyte ratios, packed cell volume (PCV), corticosterone concentrations and body condition. We found little evidence that either ectoparasites or hemogregarines affected the health of Texas ratsnakes. We found a seasonal increase in corticosterone, consistent with glucocorticoids priming the snakes to deal with higher predation risks later in the season. We also examined whether the potential stress of carrying a surgically implanted radio-transmitter compounds any parasitic health effects. We found no effect of transmitters on most aspects of health. We did find equivocal evidence that WBC concentrations were higher in snakes with transmitters and that PCV decreased following transmitter implantation. Although our results generally support the view that data collected using radio-telemetry are unlikely to be biased due to adverse health effects of transmitters, the growing importance of telemetry for studies of snakes and other taxa argues for further research on this topic. When possible, researchers should design telemetry studies in such a way that assessing potential heath effects of transmitters is one of the objectives.

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