Term of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (restricted to Georgia Southern)


Department of Biology

Committee Chair

William S. Irby

Committee Member 1

Lance A. Durden

Committee Member 2

David C. Rostal


Long-lived reptiles such as the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) may serve as hosts for arboviruses, especially Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus (EEEV), in the southeastern United States, and such a role may be related to endo- and ectoparasite loads in the tortoise. To assess this hypothesis, a survey of gopher tortoises from areas in southeastern Georgia where EEEV is present was conducted from May 2001 to August 2002. In this survey, tortoise blood samples were tested for the presence of antibodies to EEEV, and blood-borne, intestinal, and ectoparasite loads were measured.

None of the 152 plasma samples taken from gopher tortoises during 2001-2002 were positive for antibodies to EEEV using a protein LA-based assay system. Likewise, none of 101 blood smears examined were positive for blood-borne protozoa and nematodes. Fifty-five tortoise fecal samples were examined and all were positive for eggs of a previously undescribed trichostrongylid nematode species. Of 119 tortoises examined for ectoparasites, 100 were infested with the gopher tortoise tick, Amblyomma tuberculatum. There were a total of 253 male ticks, 69 female ticks, and 1650 nymphs collected from these tortoises. No other ectoparasites were found. Both tick and nematode parasitism appear to have negative effects on gopher tortoises.

No evidence was found to support the hypothesis that the gopher tortoise is serving as a host for EEEV or other blood-borne parasites in the study area. Further study is warranted to determine if this is a local or general phenomenon.

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