Avian botulism kills Virginia Lake ducks
RENO, Nev. (AP) – State wildlife officials are trying to determine the cause of a botulism outbreak that has killed about 60 ducks at Virginia Lake.
Avian botulism is a common cause of waterfowl die-offs. It usually occurs after a wet year when insect populations increase in small bodies of water, then die when the area dries out and the water becomes warm and salty. An overabundance of dead and decaying bugs can be fatal to waterfowl.
But wildlife experts said that’s not the case at Virginia Lake.
”The water is fresh,” said Norman Saake, a migratory game bird coordinator and biologist for the Nevada Division of Wildlife. ”It doesn’t fit any of the more typical botulism patterns in the wild.”
John Potash, executive director of Wildlife Rescue, suggested the use of herbicides could be to blame.
”Maybe they’re using it to clean ditches,” he said. ”This clears off a bunch of (bugs) that start decomposing in the lake,” he said. ”It’s a mass situation. The bacteria get going, and the cycle starts.”
Saake said it will take a several months to determine what caused so many bugs to die at once.
Ducks usually have no problem devouring bugs, live or dead, but large amounts of dead bugs left to decompose and become toxic are fatal to the waterfowl, he said.
Wildlife Rescue and Reno Animal Control employees have been picking up the carcasses to prevent maggots from infesting them, falling into the lake, and becoming duck food, thereby perpetuating the cycle of botulism among the birds.
”They can’t walk, they can’t fly, they can’t move their wings,” Potash said. ”When it starts getting in more severe stages, they can’t pick their neck up. Their skin gets paralyzed and their feathers fall out.”
Death results when the birds eventually drown or their lungs become paralyzed.
”The only thing we can do is collect the dead and dying and sick ones,” said Davene Kaplan, Reno park supervisor. ”No one wants to see birds dying.”
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