Aural abscess or abscess of the middle ear is common in free-living Eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) of Virginia (USA) and elsewhere. Although its etiology remains unknown, hypovitaminosis A has been suggested on the basis of similar lesions occurring in captive chelonians fed diets that are deficient in vitamin A. This hypothesis was supported by significantly greater body burdens of organochlorine compounds (reported disruptors of vitamin A metabolism) and a nonsignificant trend toward lower serum and hepatic vitamin A levels in free-living box turtles with this lesion. The tympanic epithelium was evaluated in 27 box turtles (10 with aural abscesses and 17 without). Lesions of the tympanic epithelium of box turtles with aural abscesses included hyperplasia, squamous metaplasia, hyperemia, cellular sloughing, granulomatous inflammation, and bacterial infection. These changes were more severe in turtles with aural abscesses than in those without and were more severe in tympanic cavities that had an abscess compared to those without when the lesion was unilateral. Organs from 21 box turtles (10 with aural abscesses and 11 without) from the study population were examined for microscopic lesions, and minimal histopathologic changes were found, none of which were similar to those found in the tympanic epithelium. Histopathologic changes in box turtles with aural abscesses were consistent with a syndrome that may involve hypovitaminosis A.
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Vol. 40 • No. 4