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Documenting Range Expansion of the Invasive Pentastome Parasite, Raillietiella orientalis, Using Southern Black Racer and Eastern Coachwhip Road Mortality

Jenna N. Palmisano1,*, Terence M. Farrell2, Corinna M. Hazelrig3, and Michael N. Brennan4

1Department of Biology, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL 32816. 2Department of Biology, Stetson University, DeLand, FL 32723. 3Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, Department of Population Health, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602. 4Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA 30458. *Corresponding author.

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 22, Issue 1 (2023): N17–N22

The spillover of an invasive lung parasite, Raillietiella orientalis, is an important conservation concern for snake species in the southeastern US, as native snake hosts exhibit severe infections that can be fatal. In this report, we used opportunistic captures of road-killed snakes to document the presence of R. orientalis in 4 central Florida counties where it had not previously been documented. These new localities expand the known range of R. orientalis on the eastern and western coasts of Florida as well as fill in gaps of its known range. In 2 of 4 cases, R. orientalis individuals moved into the snake’s mouth and emerged after host death. This evidence indicates that the use of road-killed specimens of frequently infected snake species may be a useful method for detecting R. orientalis. Additional surveys for R. orientalis are needed throughout the southeastern US, as this parasite is a major conservation concern for many snake species, its use of synanthropic intermediate hosts make its geographic spread unpredictable, and it is rapidly infiltrating additional populations of snakes.

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