Investigation of multiple mortality events in eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina)

Laura Adamovicz, Matthew C. Allender, Grace Archer, Marta Rzadkowska, Kayla Boers, Chris Phillips, Elizabeth Driskell, Michael J. Kinsel, Caroline Chu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wildlife mortality investigations are important for conservation, food safety, and public health; but they are infrequently reported for cryptic chelonian species. Eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) are declining due to anthropogenic factors and disease, and while mortality investigations have been reported for captive and translocated individuals, few descriptions exist for free-living populations. We report the results of four natural mortality event investigations conducted during routine health surveillance of three Illinois box turtle populations in 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2015. In April 2011, over 50 box turtles were found dead and a polymicrobial necrotizing bacterial infection was diagnosed in five survivors using histopathology and aerobic/anaerobic culture. This represents the first reported occurrence of necrotizing bacterial infection in box turtles. In August 2013, paired histopathology and qPCR ranavirus detection in nine turtles was significantly associated with occupation of moist microhabitats, identification of oral plaques and nasal discharge on physical exam, and increases in the heterophil count and heterophil to lymphocyte ratio (p < 0.05). In July 2014 and 2015, ranavirus outbreaks reoccurred within a 0.2km radius of highly-disturbed habitat containing ephemeral ponds used by amphibians for breeding. qPCR ranavirus detection in five individuals each year was significantly associated with use of moist microhabitats (p < 0.05). Detection of single and co-pathogens (Terrapene herpesvirus 1, adenovirus, and Mycoplasma sp.) was common before, during, and after mortality events, but improved sample size would be necessary to determine the impacts of these pathogens on the occurrence and outcome of mortality events. This study provides novel information about the causes and predictors of natural box turtle mortality events. Continued investigation of health, disease, and death in free-living box turtles will improve baseline knowledge of morbidity and mortality, identify threats to survival, and promote the formation of effective conservation strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0195617
JournalPloS one
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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