Terry M. Norton1, DVM, DACZM; Robert Poppenga2, DVM, PhD; Elliot Jacobson3, DVM, PhD, DACZM, Dirk Stevenson4; Carolyn Cray5, PhD; Ellen Dierenfeld6, PhD; Maria S. Sepulveda7, DVM, PhD; Timothy Gross7, PhD; Tai Chen8, PhD; Sam Telford9, DVM, PhD; Marcie Oliva10
1Wildlife Conservation Society, St. Catherines Wildlife Survival Center, Midway, GA, USA; 2Laboratory of Large Animal Toxicology, New Bolton Center, University of Pennsylvania, Kennett Square, PA, USA; 3Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA; 4Ft. Stewart Fish and Wildlife Branch, Ft. Stewart, GA, USA; 5Department of Pathology, University of Miami, Miami, FL, USA; 6Wildlife Conservation Society, Department of Nutrition, Bronx, NY, USA; 7USGS-BRD Florida Caribbean Science Center, Gainesville, FL, USA; 8Boston University, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA; 9Retired, Gainesville, FL, USA; 10White Oak Conservation Center, Yulee, FL, USA
The objectives of this on-going study are to develop a database for health assessment and nutritional parameters for free-ranging eastern indigo snakes and evaluate the effects of environmental contaminants on the health and reproductive status of this species.
Health assessment diagnostics performed included a complete blood count, a plasma biochemical profile, plasma bile acid level, and plasma protein electrophoresis, plasma vitamins D, A, and E levels, plasma mineral panel, plasma fatty acid levels, plasma 17β estradiol and testosterone, heavy metal screen, cholinesterase levels (biomarker for organophosphates) and pesticide screening. A stomach wash, fecal exam, and plasma were samples used for Cryptosporidia spp. evaluation. Whole body radiographs were performed on each snake and used to assess reproductive status in females, recently ingested prey items, and bony abnormalities. A complete necropsy was performed on any snake found dead.
Significant findings thus far include a high percentage of snakes with scabby to pustular skin lesions, with a heterophilic inflammation with a mixed bacterial and fungal infection; elevated plasma calcium levels; mild to severe infestations of the RBC with a Hepatozoon spp., lower than expected circulating vitamin A concentrations; low to moderate levels of mercury in blood and tissues samples; some snakes were positive for Cryptosporidium spp. utilizing the ELISA or IFA testing on various samples; and radiographs and necropsy revealed that prey items are sometimes present in snakes captured from November to mid-December.