Occurrence of Kalicephalus, Strongyloides, and Rhabdias nematodes as most common gastrointestinal parasites in captive snakes of German households and zoological gardens


Nowadays, snakes established as domestic exotic pets, harboring numerous (zoonotic) gastrointestinal parasites. In this parasitological survey, we used direct saline fecal smears (DSFS) to examine 586 stool samples from 71 different snake species either kept as pets in households or in zoological gardens in Germany. In addition to DSFS, carbol-fuchsin-fecal smears (n = 296), coproantigen ELISA tests (n = 98), and immunofluorescence assays (IFA; n = 77) for the detection reptile Cryptosporidium infections were conducted. Complete dissections of deceased snakes (n = 63) were also performed in order to gain data on endoparasite species burdens affecting domestic snakes. Overall, examined fecal samples contained 20 different parasite taxa: Ancylostomatid Kalicephalus spp. were the most prevalent nematode species (3.3%), followed by Strongyloides/Rhabdias (2.6%), flagellated protozoan trophozoites (e. g., Proteromonadida, Reteromonadida) (2.3%), Monocercomonas spp. (1.9%), Entamoeba spp. (1.4%), unsporulated coccidian oocysts (1.4%), Kapsulotaenia spp. (0.9%), Capillaria spp. (0.7%), indet. trematodes (0.5%), pentastomids (0.5%), spirurids (0.4%), Eimeria spp. (0.4%), ascarids (0.4%), Blastocystis sp. (0.2%), heterakids (0.2%), cestodes (Proteocephalidae) (0.2%), Plagiorchis spp. (0.2%), Cryptosporidium spp. (0.2%), Caryospora epicratesi (0.2%), and Sarcocystis spp. (0.2%). For Cryptosporidium, four carbol-fuchsin-stained smears (1.4%), 12 (12.2%) coproantigen ELISA-examined samples and 5.2% of examined samples were diagnosed with IFA. Fourteen (22.2%) of dissected snakes showed infections with various pathogenic nematode genera and 8 of them (12.7%) died due to protozoan parasitic infections. High prevalences of intestinal protozoan parasites resulting in severe pathological findings observed in dissected snakes call for more detailed investigations on gastrointestinal parasites.

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This research was supported by exomed laboratory and the Institute of Parasitology of the Justus Liebig University Giessen (Germany). We would like to extend our thanks to the colleagues Nina Heindorf, Kim Kwauka, Mathias Nolde, and Anna Dieudonne for aiding while working in the diagnosis and greatly improving research activities at exomed laboratory. We owe special debt of gratitude to Dr. Frank Mutschmann who sadly passed away recently and who was the mentor of MJH. Consequently, we dedicate this research to Dr. Frank Mutschmann and always remembering him as a passionate veterinary surgeon in the field of herpetology medicine.

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Correspondence to Malek J. Hallinger.

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Hallinger, M.J., Taubert, A. & Hermosilla, C. Occurrence of Kalicephalus, Strongyloides, and Rhabdias nematodes as most common gastrointestinal parasites in captive snakes of German households and zoological gardens. Parasitol Res (2020).

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  • Snakes
  • Reptiles
  • Parasites
  • Endoparasites
  • Exotic pets
  • Serpentes