Effects of environmentally relevant concentrations of atrazine on gonadal development of snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina)



The herbicide atrazine has been suspected of affecting sexual development by inducing aromatase, resulting in the increased conversion of androgens to estrogens. We used snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina), a species in which sex is dependent on the production of estrogen through aromatase activity in a temperature-dependent manner, to investigate if environmentally relevant exposures to atrazine affected gonadal development. Eggs were incubated in soil to which atrazine was applied at a typical field application rate (3.1 L/ha), 10-fold this rate (31 L/ha), and a control rate (no atrazine) for the duration of embryonic development. The incubation temperature (25°C) was selected to produce only males. Although some males with testicular oocytes and females were produced in the atrazine-treated groups (3.3–3.7%) but not in the control group, no statistical differences were found among treatments. Furthermore, snapping turtle eggs collected from natural nests in a corn field were incubated at the pivotal temperature (27.5°C) at which both males and females normally would be produced, and some males had oocytes in the testes (15.4%). The presence of low numbers of males with oocytes may be a natural phenomenon, and we have limited evidence to suggest that the presence of normal males with oocytes may represent a feminizing effect of atrazine. Histological examination of the thyroid gland revealed no effect on thyroid morphology.