Persistent infection (PI) with bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) has been associated with osteopetrosis and other long bone lesions, most commonly characterized as transverse zones of unmodeled metaphyseal trabeculae in fetuses and calves. This study was undertaken to characterize the morphogenesis of fetal long bone lesions. Forty-six BVDV-naïve pregnant Hereford heifers of approximately 18 months of age were inoculated with noncytopathic BVDV type 2 containing media or media alone on day 75 of gestation to produce PI and control fetuses, respectively, which were collected via cesarean section on days 82, 89, 97, 192, and 245 of gestation. Radiographic and histomorphometric abnormalities were first detected on day 192, at which age PI fetal long bone metaphyses contained focal densities (4 of 7 fetuses) and multiple alternating transverse radiodense bands (3 of 7 fetuses). Day 245 fetuses were similarly affected. Histomorphometric analysis of proximal tibial metaphyses from day 192 fetuses revealed transverse zones with increased calcified cartilage core (Cg.V/BV, %) and trabecular bone (BV/TV, %) volumes in regions corresponding to radiodense bands (P < .05). Numbers of tartrate resistant acid phosphatase positive osteoclasts (N.Oc/BS, #/mm(2)) and bone perimeter occupied (Oc.S/BS, %) were both decreased (P < .05). Mineralizing surface (MS/BS, %), a measure of tissue level bone formation activity, was reduced in PI fetuses (P < .05). It is concluded that PI with BVDV induces cyclic abnormal trabecular modeling, which is secondary to reduced numbers of osteoclasts. The factors responsible for these temporal changes are unknown but may be related to the time required for osteoclast differentiation from precursor cells.