Piroplasms, morphologically indistinguishable from Cytauxzoon felis, previously were detected in 36% of cougars in Florida. We utilized a nested 18S rRNA assay, which amplifies DNA from all piroplasms, to screen blood samples collected from 41 cougars from Florida (39 native Florida panthers [Puma concolor coryi] and two translocated Texas cougars [P. c. stanleyana]) from 1989–2005. Thirty-nine of the 41 cougars (95%) were positive for piroplasms; however, sequence analysis and restriction enzyme digestion revealed that only five were positive for C. felis. Samples from 32 cougars were positive for a Babesia sp. Two cougars were co-infected with both C. felis and the Babesia sp. Phylogenetic analysis of 18S rRNA gene sequence indicated that the Florida panther Babesia sp. was most closely related to a Babesia sp. reported from Ixodes ovatus from Japan, Babesia divergens, and Babesia odocoilei. This study indicates that Florida panthers harbor two distinct piroplasms, C. felis and a Babesia sp., and that some individuals are infected with both organisms. The infectivity and pathogenicity of this Babesia sp. for domestic cats is unknown. This represents the first report of a feline Babesia sp. in North America.
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Vol. 42 • No. 2