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article imageBlood-sucking parasite and quail decline connection

By Tim Sandle     Aug 24, 2014 in Environment
In the summer of 2010, the Rolling Plains of West Texas expected a bumper crop of quail. By October, they nearly had vanished. A new study shows the cause to be a blood-sucking parasite.
As part of the analysis, researchers necropsied hundreds of birds throughout a 19-million-acre area of land. The results of the study show that the deaths were caused by a large numbers of parasitic eyeworms.
The research uncovered that the eyeworm can range in size from about an eighth of an inch to the diameter of a penny. Once inside the birds, the parasites move freely from eye to eye through the sinus cavity, where they suck the blood of the birds, mate and release eggs. The parasitic nematodes (Oxyspirura petrowi) ingest blood from the quail and feed predominantly in ducts behind the eye, where they can cause severe inflammation and edema from their feeding activities.
The source of the infection is considered to be crickets. Scientists think that by eating crickets infected with eyeworms, quail were actually swallowing a poisoned pill. Eggs from eyeworms in quail would be left behind in the birds' feces, which in turn would be eaten by more crickets.
The study was carried out by The Institute of Environmental and Human Health at Texas Tech University. The study was part of multi-million-dollar Operation Idiopathic Decline and it was funded by the private Rolling Plains Quail Research Foundation. Operation Idiopathic Decline began in 2011. The three-year project aimed to discover what might have caused the massive die-off on the Rolling Plains.
The findings have been published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, in a paper titled “Evidence of an Oxispirura petrowi Epizootic in Northern Bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) Texas, USA”.
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