New Virus Is Killing Maryland Box Turtles

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (WJZ) — Biologists say it’s a terrible way to die and it’s killing box turtles here in Maryland.

Alex DeMetrick reports a virus that infects frogs has somehow managed to jump to turtles with lethal results.

Researchers from Towson University discovered a box turtle dying from an infection called Ranavirus.

“It’s a long and grueling death for them,” said Scott Smith, DNR Wildlife Heritage Service.

Several infected turtles were found in a preserve cut out for them along the new ICC highway in Montgomery County. They also found dead tadpoles and salamanders, which normally carry the virus.

“It has apparently jumped from frogs to box turtles. It’s causing their eyes to get swollen. They get this white plaque in their mouths that sloughs off and causes problems with breathing and feeding and eventually they die,” Smith said.

When the ICC opened, it wasn’t without protest from environmentalists.

“This road is an abomination,” said one woman. “Deforestation. Wetlands removed. Streams and creeks.”

Biologists found the Ranavirus in areas kept as natural as possible and have seen it a few other times in turtles in other Maryland counties, but not in the numbers found in Montgomery County.

The virus has been in the U.S. for many years. Why it’s hitting so hard now is the question.

“A lot of our animals are under stress from habitat loss, pollution and things like that. It could be nature’s under stress right now and this is a symptom of that,” Smith said.

Although the Ranavirus has jumped from amphibians like frogs to turtles, which are reptiles, it is not a threat to mammals like us.

More from Alex DeMetrick
  • KottaMan

    As far to the left as Mo County is I am surprised they are not blaming this on George Bush.

    • Shannon

      I had to laugh at this, because that’s exactly what I was going to say!! Love it!

    • TheTruth

      Well people are getting sick of blaming who is really at fault. But I’m not, George Bush and his turtley turtle hating self needs to pay for the travesty he has done.

      Left 4 Life, Suckas!

  • Luke

    I wondered where those little fellows were going. I remember when I was a kid box turtles were everywhere. Now you never see one.

  • David Nix

    Raw freshwater fish contains thiaminase, which combined with the turtle version of herpes causes these warts. Livestock that eat bracken fern get the same type of warts. Bracken fern also contains thiaminase. People who raise horses, sheep and cattle know to keep their animals away from bracken fern for other reasons.
    There is nothing practical that can be done for these turtles.

  • Ian

    This article is about the Ranavirus not the herpes virus… I really doubt that thiaminase has anything at all to do with the ranavirus’s mutation that allowed it to infect tutles as well as frogs.

    • David Nix

      I know, but thiamin deficiencies are known to cause viral suseptability in many animals. Box turtles don’t move much on their own, a few hundred meters back and forth between summer and winter. Ranavirus is obviously being introduced by amphibians and fish in wetter than normal years, that migrate through the turtles territory, but that doesn’t explain why it’s so fast and lethal to turtles. The article notes that there were secondary infections present in turtles that suddenly died from Ranavirus. That suggests that it isn’t just a rogue virus doing this alone.

      From the article:
      “Pathology Laboratories at several University and State agencies could not identify the primary pathogen – they found only disparate, opportunistic, secondary infectious agents. Toxicology screens were negative.” This was before the UF Vet School researchers isolated Ranavirus in all the dead turtles.

      But the writer then goes on to claim that the virus alone did so much internal damage to vital organ that it killed the turtles before they could develop immunity. I don’t buy that.

      The turtle herpes virus is always present but doesn’t cause lesions unless the animal is weakened by thiamin deficiency. My thinking is that Ranavirus alone isn’t enough. Wet years make more ferns, fresh water fish and amphibians. Taking blood samples of turtles to establish thiamin levels year round might confirm the link. The Ranavirus die offs were seasonal, but the author of the article noted that even eating amphibians alone couldn’t explain the dieoffs.

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