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Infectious Virus Found In Maryland Amphibians

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The hemmorhaging on the belly of these woodfrog tadpoles is a sign of Ranavirus infection.
Teal Richards-Dimitrie
The hemmorhaging on the belly of these woodfrog tadpoles is a sign of Ranavirus infection.

Scientists are investigating a disease outbreak among salamanders, tadpoles, and turtles in Maryland.

Several years ago, Towson University biologists Scott Farnsworth and Richard Seigel started tracking turtles near the Inter County Connector to see if the reptiles were doing ok after being displaced by the ICC. For a while they were, until they started finding empty shells.

Farnsworth says Ranavirus, a type of highly infectious virus found in amphibians, fish, and some reptiles, had arrived - no one knows how.

"This is a pretty brutal disease it actually affects multiple organs and kills off the tissue," Farnsworth says. "They exhibit a lot of gaping behavior where they try to clear their lungs and draw in air."

Then the tadpoles were hit, as Seigel remembers.

"On Friday, three quarters of the tadpoles were swimming abnormally and had the red hemorrhaging on their belly," Seigel says. "On Monday, there was nothing left."

The State of Maryland sent pathologists, and the USGS took samples as well. If the virus continues to be this lethal year after year, scientists say the slow growing turtles would be put on a path toward local extinction. If not, the populations may recover. At this point, scientist say they don't know where things are headed.

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