Hellbenders (n=97) were collected from the Little and Hiwassee Rivers in eastern Tennessee, USA, during 2009 and 2010. Location and morphometrics for each animal were recorded, and nonlethal tissue samples were collected to estimate the prevalence of infection with Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) and Ranavirus in each watershed and year. Real-time polymerase chain reaction was performed on skin swabs for Bd and on tail clips for ranaviruses. Overall prevalences of DNA of Bd, Ranavirus, and coinfections (i.e., detectable DNA of both pathogens in the same individual) were 26%, 19%, and 5%, respectively. Differences in infection prevalence were detected between watersheds and years. Gross lesions were observed in 31 animals (32%), but the types of lesions were not consistent with chytridiomycosis or ranaviral disease. This is the first report of infection of eastern hellbenders with Bd and Ranavirus. Despite infection by both pathogens, it is unclear whether chytridiomycosis or ranaviral disease develops in wild populations of hellbenders. More research is needed to determine the susceptibility of hellbenders to Bd and ranaviruses and their role in the epidemiology of these pathogens.
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Vol. 48 • No. 3