Sarcocystis rileyi (Apicomplexa) in Anas platyrhynchos in Europe with a potential for spread

Shaozhi Zuo, Sune R. Sørensen, Per W. Kania, Kurt Buchmann*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Four specimens of mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) shot by local hunters (December 2020 to January 2021 along the eastern coastline of the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea) were diagnosed with a heavy load of sarcocysts in the musculature. Morphometric and molecular diagnosis based on rDNA (18 S, ITS1, 28 S) of parasites recovered from two of the birds revealed the causative pathogen to be Sarcocystis rileyi. We further present novel sequences for the entire 5.8 S and ITS2 for this species. Elongate cysts (mean length 5.25 (SD 0.6) mm, width 1.37 (SD 0.2) mm) were recorded in all parts of the striated skeletal musculature of the birds. The main part (72%) of the 2585 cysts in one female mallard was located in the outer superficial pectoral musculature, with 11% in the inner pectoral musculature. Minor but significant parts were found in the dorsal, ventral abdominal, neck and head, legs, hand and arm (wing) musculature. No cysts were found in the smooth musculature. Each cyst contained a median of 3.2 mio bradyzoites indicating that more than 8 billion bradyzoites are available for infection of one or more predators/scavengers ingesting the bird. Bradyzoites (median length 13.5 μm (range 12.1–14.5) and median width 2.66 μm (range 2.1–3.3)) were highly resistant to proteinase treatment, which secures the passage through the stomach of the predator to its intestine where wall penetration takes place. One of the birds was ringed (tagged) in Sweden Island Øland in the Baltic Sea two years before being shot. This is documenting immigration of mallards from northern locations. The parasite species was originally described in North America in 1893 and was commonly reported in this region during the 20th century but not in Europe. Recent cases from Norway, Finland, Lithuania, Poland, UK and Hungary suggest that the species may be spreading geographically. Experienced duck hunters with a 40 years record of hunting on the island reported that this type of infection unprecedented. The final host is reported to be canines (fox, raccoon dog), skunk and mustelids, including ermines and American mink. Presence of these hosts in Europe may allow establishment of the life cycle and further colonization of the local duck populations which calls for implementation of a survey program in Europe.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife
Pages (from-to)270-275
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Sarcocysts
  • Apicomplexa
  • Ducks
  • Parasite


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