Surveillance for diseases, pathogens, and toxicants of muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) in Pennsylvania and surrounding regions

Laken S. Ganoe, Justin D. Brown, Matthew J. Lovallo, Michael J. Yabsley, Kayla B. Garrett, Alec T. Thompson, Robert H. Poppenga, Mark G. Ruder, W. David Walter

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1 Scopus citations


Using diagnostic data and contemporary sampling efforts, we conducted surveillance for a diversity of pathogens, toxicants, and diseases of muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus). Between 1977 and 2019, 26 diagnostic cases were examined from Kansas and throughout the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, USA. We identified multiple causes of mortality in muskrats, but trauma (8/26), Tyzzer's disease (5/6), and cysticercosis (5/26) were the most common. We also conducted necropsies, during November 2018-January 2019 Pennsylvania muskrat trapping season, on 380 trapper-harvested muskrat carcasses after the pelt was removed. Tissue samples and exudate were tested for presence of or exposure to a suite of pathogens and contaminants. Gastrointestinal tracts were examined for helminths. Intestinal helminths were present in 39.2% of necropsied muskrats, with Hymenolepis spp. (62%) and echinostome spp. (44%) being the most common Molecular testing identified a low prevalence of infection with Clostridium piliforme in the feces and Sarcocystis spp. in the heart. We detected a low seroprevalence to Toxoplasma gondii (1/380). No muskrats were positive for Francisella tularensis or Babesia spp. Cysticercosis was detected in 20% (5/26) of diagnostic cases and 15% (57/380) of our trapper-harvested muskrats. Toxic concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, lead, or mercury were not detected in tested liver samples. Copper, molybdenum, and zinc concentrations were detected at acceptable levels comparative to previous studies. Parasite intensity and abundance were typical of historic reports; however, younger muskrats had higher intensity of infection than older muskrats which is contradictory to what has been previously reported. A diversity of pathogens and contaminants have been reported from muskrats, but the associated disease impacts are poorly understood. Our data are consistent with historic reports and highlight the wide range of parasites, pathogens and contaminants harbored by muskrats in Pennsylvania. The data collected are a critical component in assessing overall muskrat health and serve as a basis for understanding the impacts of disease on recent muskrat population declines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0260987
JournalPloS one
Issue number12 December
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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