New Virus Is Killing Maryland Box Turtles

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Alex DeMetrick 370x278 Alex DeMetrick
Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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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.

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