The study of secretive snakes, such as rattlesnakes, has benefited from the use of radiotelemetry. However, the principal assumption in telemetry studies is that the transmitter has no significant effect on the study animal. To test the validity of this assumption, the physiologic and pathologic effects of intracoelomic implants were examined in a group of 24 eastern massasauga rattlesnakes (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) in a laboratory setting over a period of 58 wk between March 2005 and April 2006. Inflammation and infection were evaluated using gross examination, histopathology, bacteriology, hematology, and plasma protein electrophoresis. Inflammation and infection occurred despite careful surgical procedures and advanced veterinary care. Four of 12 (33%) snakes developed extensive inflammatory response to the transmitter and associated anaerobic and gram-negative bacterial infections. Another four (33%) snakes showed mild inflammatory responses without infection. Reaction to the transmitters was reflected in changes in values for heterophils, monocytes, alpha-1, and beta globulin levels. Some conclusions reached in field studies using implanted radiotransmitters in snakes may be invalid if the implant influences the behavior or survival of the subject. Advances in attachment methods and transmitter coating technology may prevent some of the adverse effects associated with surgically implanted transmitters.
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Vol. 47 • No. 1