A new lungworm discovered in Northern Canada’s caribou, muskox and moose.

Photo credit: Susan Kutz, Gui Verocai

Roundworms of the Family Protostrongylidae (a group of parasitic roundworms) are often capable of causing disease in wild and domestic animals. Depending on the species, adult worms can reside in the lungs, muscles or nervous system, usually causing lung disease sometimes associated with muscular and/or nervous disorders.

Through molecular analysis of larvae isolated from feces of caribou, muskox and moose across Northern North America, Alberta regional CCWHC Director Dr. Susan Kutz from the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, along with collaborators found that a previously undescribed lungworm species was infecting wild ungulates across most of arctic and subarctic North America.  A name could not be given to this new species because adult worms were not isolated, and hence not formally described.

Dr. Guilherme ‘Gui’ Verocai collecting samples in the field.

In 2009, Dr. Guilherme ‘Gui’ Verocai, a Brazilian Veterinarian and Parasitologist, joined as a PhD student in Dr. Kutz’s lab at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Calgary to work further on this new species. From 2010 to 2012, Gui with help of many collaborators in the Nunavik Research Centre (Makivik Corporation) and Alberta Fish and Wildlife Division isolated adult worms out of the lungs of muskoxen from Northern Quebec and woodland caribou from Alberta. Specimens were analyzed and the formal description of this new species of Varestrongylus is close to being submitted for publication. Gui’s preliminary results show that the geographic range of this new lungworm is even wider, occurring in many other barren ground caribou herds across the Arctic, different woodland caribou herds in the Canadian provinces and in muskoxen and caribou from an arctic island in Nunavut.

The name of the new species cannot be released yet, but the authors have proposed a name derived from the North Slavey language spoken by the Dene people in the Sahtu Settlement Area, Northwest Territories. Larvae of the new parasite were first found from feces of caribou sampled by Sahtu hunters in the early 2000’s, thus, the name was chosen through consultation with Sahtu hunters and elders. Deleterious effects directly caused by this lungworm are yet to be investigated, but microscopic evidence of pneumonia associated with infection has been demonstrated in muskoxen.

Dorsal Spine Larvae – Varestrongylus sp.
Photo credit: Susan Kutz, Gui Verocai

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *