Ranavirus infection of free-ranging and captive box turtles and tortoises in the United States

April J. Johnson, Allan P. Pessier, James F.X. Wellehan, April Childress, Terry M. Norton, Nancy L. Stedman, David C. Bloom, William Belzer, Valorie R. Titus, Robert Wagner, Jason W. Brooks, Jeffrey Spratt, Elliott R. Jacobson

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129 Scopus citations


Iridoviruses of the genus Ranavirus are well known for causing mass mortality events of fish ad amphibians with sporadic reports of infection in reptiles. This article describes five instances of Ranavirus infection in chelonians between 2003 and 2005 in Georgia, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania, USA. Affected species included captive Burmese star tortoises (Geochelone platynota), a free-ranging gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphernus), free-ranging eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina), and a Florida box turtle (Terrepene carolina bauri). Evidence for Ranavirus infection was also found in archived material from previously unexplained mass mortality events of eastern box turtles from Georgia in 1991 and from Texas in 1998. Consistent lesions in affected animals included necrotizing stomatitis and/or esophagitis, fibrinous and necrotizing splenitis, and multicentric fibrinoid vasculitis. Intracytoplasmic inclusion bodies were rarely observed in affected tissues. A portion of the major capsid protein (MCP) gene was sequenced from each case in 2003-2005 and found to be identical to each other and to Frog virus 3 (FV3) across 420 base pairs. Ranavims infections were also documented in sympatric species of amphibians at two locations with infected chelonians. The fragment profiles of HindIII-digested whole genomic DNA of Ranavirus, isolated from a dead Burmese star tortoise and a southern leopard frog (Rana utricularia) found nearby, were similar. The box turtle isolate had a low molecular weight fragment that was not seen in the digestion profiles for the other isolates. These results suggest that certain amphibians and chelonians are infected with a similar virus and that different viruses exist among different chelonians. Amphibians may serve as a reservoir host for susceptible chelonians. This report also demonstrated that significant disease associated with Ranavirus infections are likely more widespread in chelonians than previously suspected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)851-863
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of wildlife diseases
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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