Would you like worms with that?

Raincoast researchers publish paper on unexpected discovery.

Conservation research can lead to unexpected findings. Sometimes these surprises relate to our core questions while other times they belong in a science fiction film.  One of these findings occurred while we were studying diseases that might harm wildlife in coastal BC. Though not what we set out to study, these types of discoveries are part of what makes science fun.

black-tailed deer are primary diet of BC's coastal wolves
Internal parasites of black-tailed deer are found in wolf scat.

Many of us have probably felt a moment of panic at the sight of a little garden slug on a forkful of fresh salad en route to our mouths.  Raincoast scientists together with researchers from the Universities of Saskatchewan and Uppsala have found that wolves may have a similar experience while dining on deer.   The research team first noticed the unusual worm larvae in wolf scat during a survey of parasites in wolves.  Genetic analysis identified the microscopic worms as a parasite common to deer, but not wolves.   The likely explanation for its presence in wolf scat is that the worms were consumed by a wolf feasting on an infected deer and then passed through the wolf’s digestive tract into the faeces.

This result, which has been published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, highlights the value of using genetic techniques to improve identification of parasites in scat.

Download the paper

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Research scientist, Adam Warner conducting genetics research in our genetics lab.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.