Do blood parasites infect Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) in the wild? Prospective investigation and climatogeographic considerations

Parasitology. 2017 Apr;144(5):698-705. doi: 10.1017/S0031182016002407. Epub 2017 Jan 11.


Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) are native to Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands. Magellanic penguins are highly susceptible to blood parasites such as the mosquito-borne Plasmodium spp., which have been documented causing high morbidity and mortality in zoos and rehabilitation centres. However, to date no blood parasites have been detected in wild Magellanic penguins, and it is not clear whether this is reflective of their true absence or is instead related to an insufficiency in sampling effort or a failure of the diagnostic methods. We examined blood smears of 284 Magellanic penguins from the Argentinean coast and tested their blood samples with nested polymerase chain reaction tests targeting Haemoproteus, Plasmodium, Leucocytozoon and Babesia. No blood parasites were detected. Analysing the sampling effort of previous studies and the climatogeography of the region, we found there is strong basis to conclude that haemosporidians do not infect wild Magellanic penguins on the Argentinean coast. However, at present it is not possible to determine whether such parasites occur on the Chilean coast and at the Falkland Islands. Furthermore, it is troubling that the northward distribution expansion of Magellanic penguins and the poleward distribution shift of vectors may lead to novel opportunities for the transmission of blood parasites.

Keywords: Haemosporida; Piroplasmida; avian malaria; climate change; disease; health; seabird; vector-borne pathogen.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apicomplexa / isolation & purification*
  • Argentina
  • Babesia / isolation & purification
  • Bird Diseases / parasitology*
  • Climate
  • Culicidae / parasitology*
  • Geography
  • Haemosporida / isolation & purification
  • Insect Vectors / parasitology*
  • Parasitemia / veterinary
  • Plasmodium / isolation & purification
  • Prospective Studies
  • Protozoan Infections, Animal / parasitology*
  • Spheniscidae / parasitology*