Systemic Caryospora-like coccidiosis in a clutch of hatchling red-eared slider turtles (Trachemys scripta elegans)

Naomi Falconnier, Michael Warshaw, James F.X. Wellehan, April L. Childress, Daniel K. Howe, Holly Taylor, Ingeborg M. Langohr, Mary B. Ard, Daniel B. Paulsen, Emi Sasaki, Maria S. Mitchell, Mariano Carossino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Caryospora-like organisms (CLOs) form a clade of at least 11 genotypes of related coccidia that can cause epizootic mortality in marine turtles. The biology, transmission, host species range, and host cell tropism of these organisms are still largely unknown. The goal of this study was to characterize the host cell tropism, pathologic and ultrastructural features, and phylogeny associated with the first report of a mortality event due to CLO in the freshwater red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans). Sudden mortalities within a clutch of captive-raised red-eared slider hatchlings (n = 8) were recorded, and deceased animals had severe segmental to diffuse, transmural, fibrinonecrotic enterocolitis and multifocal to coalescing hepatic necrosis, among other lesions associated with numerous intracytoplasmic developing stages of intralesional coccidia. Among the different developmental stages, merozoites were ultrastructurally characterized by an apical complex. A pan-apicomplexan polymerase chain reaction (PCR) yielded a 347 bp-amplicon matching the Schellackia/Caryospora-like clade with 99.1% identity to the US3 strain from green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and 99.1% identity to Schellackia sp. Isolate OC116. Surviving hatchlings were treated with toltrazuril sulfone (ponazuril) but were subsequently euthanized due to the risk of spreading the parasite to other chelonids in the collection. The ponazuril-treated hatchlings (n = 4) had mild proliferative anterior enteritis, with few intraepithelial coccidia in one hatchling confirmed as CLO by PCR. This is the first report of Caryospora-like coccidiosis in non-cheloniid turtles, highlighting the relevance of this disease as an emerging highly pathogenic intestinal and extra-intestinal form of coccidiosis of turtles with potential cross-species infectivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-108
Number of pages14
JournalVeterinary Pathology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.


  • Caryospora-like
  • Schellackia, systemic coccidiosis
  • Trachemys scripta elegans
  • enterocolitis
  • immunohistochemistry
  • red-eared slider
  • transmission electron microscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Veterinary


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