The eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis) is a North American salamander species in decline throughout its range. Efforts to identify the causes of decline have included surveillance for the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which has been associated with global amphibian population losses. We evaluated the prevalence of Bd in 42 hellbenders at four sites in West Virginia, US, from June to September 2013, using standard swab protocols and real-time PCR. Overall prevalence of Bd was 52% (22/42; 37.7–66.6%; 95% confidence interval). Prevalence was highest in individuals with body weight ≥695 g (χ2=7.2487, df=1, P=0.007), and was higher in montane sampling sites than lowland sites (t=−2.4599, df=44, P=0.02). While increased prevalence in montane sampling sites was expected, increased prevalence in larger hellbenders was unexpected and hypothesized to be associated with greater surface area for infection or prolonged periods of exposure in older, larger hellbenders. Wild hellbenders have not been reported to display clinical disease associated with Bd; however, prevalence in the population is important information for evaluating reservoir status and risk to other species, and as a baseline for investigation in the face of an outbreak of clinical disease.
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Vol. 52 • No. 2