Master of Science (MS)


Biomedical and Veterinary Medical Sciences - Veterinary Clinical Sciences

Document Type



Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) populations have experienced precipitous declines from habitat loss, and human and disease related mortality. The goal of this study was to characterize the health status of free-ranging Louisiana gopher tortoises. Gopher tortoises were collected during two distinct trapping seasons: fall (August-October 2002) and spring (April-June 2003). Captured tortoises were given a physical exam and the carapace and plastron length and width, weight, and body temperature were recorded. Blood was collected from the subcarapacial vein and submitted for the following testing procedures: complete blood count, plasma chemistry, infectious disease serology (Mycoplasma), and toxicologic screen (copper, mercury, zinc, and lead). Fifty-nine tortoises were captured during the study. Fifty-seven (97%) of the tortoises were adult animals and two (3%) were juveniles. Twenty (34%) of the tortoises were captured in the fall and thirty nine (66%) were captured in the spring. There were thirty male (53%) and twenty-seven female (47%) tortoises captured between the two trapping periods. The gender of the hatchling tortoises could not be determined. Complete blood counts, plasma biochemistry analyses and toxin screens were performed on fifty seven adult tortoises. There were several differences detected in the white blood cell count between trapping season. The white blood cell count and heterophil count were significantly higher in the spring compared to the fall. Significant gender differences were observed for potassium, calcium, and phosphorus. Marked seasonal variation was observed with glucose, uric acid, and GGT. Only creatinine kinase levels differed significantly between sites. There was a difference in the mercury and copper levels between gender. Only copper differed significantly between season. Overall, 26% of the tortoises were serologically suspect or positive for Mycoplasma agassizii. There was no difference in parasite shedding between gender, site of capture, or season. The parasites identified in these tortoises were consistent with findings in gopher tortoises throughout their range. In general, our findings suggest that these tortoises are in good health.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Mark A. Mitchel