Several dead box turtles found in Illinois parks earlier this month have scientists concerned because they tested positive for the ranavirus, a contagious virus that affects not only turtles, but amphibians and even fish. According to a report in the News Gazette, a publication that serves central Illinois, wildlife veterinarian Matt Allender went to visit the parks after receiving a call that staff at the Vermilion County Conservation District found two dead turtles. Allender tested the turtles, which came back positive for the ranavirus.
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Eastern box turtle. Photo by Ken Thomas/Wikimedia Commons
Allender, who is also a clinical assistant professor of comparative biosciences at the University of Illinois, also visited Kennekuk County Park and Kickapoo State Park and found 17 more dead turtles, all victims of the fast moving virus. The outbreak is a cause for concern because of the high mortality rate of the virus, and its propensity to cross over to other species. In fact, Allender has made several trips to Vermilion County since the first initial call and has found six dead turtles and more that later died as well as six dead amphibians, all which tested positive for the ranavirus.
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"It's definitely an outbreak," Allender told the News Gazette. Allender is unsure of the cause of the outbreak, but told the paper that it could be a naturally occurring event, or perhaps someone released a turtle or amphibian that had the virus, or a pet escaped that had the virus. "I'm still holding out hope that it's a random occurrence," Allender said.
Box turtles live mostly on land, unlike most turtles which live in water. They are named as such because of their hinged plastron that enables them to close their head and leg openings in the event they are attacked by a potential predator. There are several species of box turtle in the United States, including the eastern (Terrapene c. carolina), ornate (T. o. ornata, a subspecies of T. ornata, the western box turtle), the Florida box turtle (T. c. bauri), and the three-toed box turtle (T. c. triunguis).