Raccoon Latrines: Watching Our Wildlife

This summer, University of Guelph summer student, Grace Thornton and PhD candidate, Shannon French began a year-long research project in collaboration with the rare Charitable Research Reserve. The researchers are investigating the role of rodents in the ecology of the raccoon roundworm, Baylisascaris procyonis.

Raccoons are the definitive host of the raccoon roundworm. Raccoons typically defecate in a communal location known as a “latrine”.  They can often be found in abandoned sheds, at the base of trees, or on fallen logs or stumps. Roundworm eggs are shed in raccoon feces and can create a focal point of infection, as the infective eggs may accumulate in these latrines. If ingested, this parasite can cause serious neurological disease in a variety of species. Animals may become infected with raccoon roundworm by foraging through the latrine for undigested seeds or nuts that may still be present in the feces, or by grooming themselves after walking through an infective latrine.

Part of Dr. French’s PhD includes investigating the role of small mammals in maintaining raccoon roundworm in the environment. In this study, the researchers aim to identify the species visiting established raccoon latrines. Using strategically placed motion-sensitive trail cameras, we photograph animals visiting the raccoon latrines and the images are assessed to determine the species present as well as the behaviors displayed. The animals don’t seem to mind the presence of the camera – in fact, the raccoons are curious and often shake the camera on its stand!

Species viewed visiting established raccoon latrines at rare include: raccoon, grey squirrel, eastern chipmunk, red squirrel, pileated woodpecker, wild turkey, and groundhog.

Researchers will continue to monitor the raccoon latrines to observe patterns of latrine-use by the various animal species viewed on the cameras, and to establish which species have the greatest risk of exposure to the raccoon roundworm.

To learn more about raccoon roundworm, visit:

https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/baylisascaris/index.html

To learn more about research in the Jardine lab:

http://blog.healthywildlife.ca/a-study-of-the-raccoon-roundworm-in-ontario-its-a-trap/

http://pathobiologyresearch.com/jardine/

By Grace Thornton and Shannon French, rare researchers

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