Deadly disease threatens world’s amphibians

Jonathan McKnight, associate director of DNR\'s Natural Heritage Program with Maryland Natural Resources Police Corporal Michael Lathroum (and a mature red eared slider). (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

WASHINGTON — The threat of the Ebola virus has generated concern across the globe. Among wildlife ecologists, another deadly virus is raising worldwide alarm: the ranavirus.

“This is a devastating disease” explains Jonathan McKnight, associate director of the Natural Heritage Program at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Part of the reason it’s truly disturbing, says McKnight, is because it’s moved from frogs to turtles and fish.

“We need to be really concerned about something that can effect that many different creatures, because once it’s introduced into an area, it can have a devastating effect on the wildlife in that area.”

McKnight spoke at a recent news conference in Annapolis, where Natural Resources Police announced a public education campaign designed head off an anticipated spike in the sale of undersized pet turtles with the release of the movie “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” McKnight explained that those turtles, generally a non- native species, often end up released into the wild once the novelty of pet ownership has worn off. That can help spread the disease.

McKnight says the ranavirus is not currently a threat to human health because only cold-blooded animals can get it.

“Like many emerging viruses which comes with trading pet animals all over the world and the release of pets into the wild.”

McKnight says he’s seeing large losses of frogs, turtles and tadpoles and his goal is to stop the spread of the disease.

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WTOP’S Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.

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