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Epistylis spp. infestation in two species of mud turtles (Kinosternon spp.) in the American Southwest

January 3, 2023

The protistan genus Epistylis contains freshwater colonial species that attach to aquatic organisms in an epibiotic or parasitic relationship. They are known to attach to the epidermis and shells of aquatic turtles, but have not been reported to cause heavy infestations or morbidity in turtles. We documented heavy infestations of Epistylis spp. in several populations of Sonoran mud turtles (Kinosternon sonoriense) inhabiting livestock ponds in Arizona, USA, and rough-footed mud turtles (Kinosternon hirtipes) from livestock ponds in Texas, USA, over the course of several years. Severe Epistylis spp. infestations on mud turtles appeared to alter diving and swimming behavior when compared to uninfested conspecifics. Infestations were cleared in captivity using tap water or a 10% salt solution, and the turtles had no permanent damage to their shell or epidermis upon clearing. While several of the mud turtles we observed had poor body condition, it is possible that the severe infestations we observed were caused by a comorbidity associated with a pathogen, parasite, or poor habitat quality that made the turtles more susceptible to the Epistylis spp. infestation. Further research on causes for these severe infestations are warranted because they contribute to changes in behavior of the heavily infested turtles and may contribute to morbidity in Kinosternon spp. when mud turtles inhabit extremely warm, shallow, eutrophic aquatic habitats, such as livestock ponds.

Publication Year 2023
Title Epistylis spp. infestation in two species of mud turtles (Kinosternon spp.) in the American Southwest
DOI 10.7589/JWD-D-22-00035
Authors Audrey K. Owens, Jennifer A. Smith, Rebecca A. Cole, Jeffrey M. Lorch, Daniel A. Grear
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Wildlife Diseases
Index ID 70239813
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center