Vertical transmission of blood parasites has been demonstrated in humans and some domestic species, but it has not been well documented in wild populations. We assessed whether Hepatozoon blood parasites are vertically transmitted in naturally infected individuals of the viviparous western terrestrial garter snake (Thamnophis elegans). Blood smears were taken from nine wild-caught gravid female snakes at capture, preparturition, and postparturition, and then from their laboratory-born offspring at age 2 mo and 1 yr. All infected offspring were born to four infected females, although not all offspring in a given litter were necessarily infected. Parasites were not detected in offspring born to the five uninfected mothers. The highest parasite loads were found in neonates at 2 mo of age. Parasite prevalence did not vary between sexes in offspring, but females showed higher loads than did males when 2 mo old. This study supports vertical transmission of Hepatozoon in naturally infected viviparous snakes and suggests that vertical transmission of hematozoan parasites might be an overlooked mode of transmission in wildlife.
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Vol. 53 • No. 1