Parasite mystery being studied on sheep, deer

Rachel Summa, Campus Carrier staff writer

Dr. George Gallagher, Dana professor of animal science, has conducted several research projects on the deer at Berry. Recently, the deer and sheep on campus have been affected by internal parasites. Gallagher, with his student worker senior Kim Lince, have been working to determine if the sheep have been affecting the deer with these parasites or vice-versa. Recently, Gallagher and Lince are trying to collect parasites found in white-tailed deer.

Gallagher and Lince began their project by examining internal parasites found in both Berry’s sheep and deer to determine if both groups were affected by the same species of parasites. They gathered fecal samples from both the sheep and the deer that grazed near those sheep and compared these results to samples from deer that did not roam near the sheep. Gallagher and Lince then used the samples to count the eggs of the parasites.

“We were first seeing how many of these internal parasites are in deer and how many are in sheep,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher explained that the problem with this method, though, was that these parasite eggs collected from the feces of sheep and different groups of deer could look the same and be genetically different. His new goal became to find a way to analyze speciation in these different parasites.

The next step, then, was to find a way to extract adult parasites from the sheep and deer to determine if these groups were affected by the same parasite.

Now, Gallagher and Lince are working to extract adult parasites from Berry’s deer. These species can be collected primarily from dead deer. Gallagher explained that whenever Campus Safety receives a call about a deer that was recently hit by a car, they call Gallagher and Lince to come take parts from the deer to extract samples of adult parasites from the deer’s digestive system. However, since not enough deer are killed frequently, Gallagher and Lince needed an additional method to extract the parasites.

To collect adult parasites from live deer without harming them, Gallagher and Lince have been feeding the deer de-wormer and then collecting fecal samples. Gallagher explained that this de-wormer material is often fed to infected goats, and since deer and goats have similar digestive systems, Berry College approved Gallagher’s proposal to feed the school’s deer with the same material. Gallagher and Lince use blue dye in this material so that the samples are easier to detect and collect.

“We have such a high deer population that we can get samples nearby,” Lince said.

If this research project is successful, Gallagher and Lince may be able to apply this method to Berry’s sheep with an additional approved de-worming material.

“This is a huge problem, the parasites in this area,” Lince said. “It’s definitely something that I think needs to be addressed.”

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