Honors College

Document Type

Honors Thesis


Animal and Veterinary Sciences


Anne Lichtenwalner

Committee Members

François Amar, David Marcinkowski, Clare Thomas-Pino, Jim Weber

Graduation Year

May 2021

Publication Date

Spring 5-2021


Parelaphostrongylus tenuis, referred to as “brainworm,” is a parasite that originates in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus, WTD) and has the ability to spread and cause harm to livestock, particularly small ruminants. Larvae are shed in the feces of WTD and are picked up by gastropods (e.g.snails and slugs), where they mature to their infective stage. When livestock accidentally ingest the snails, the worms migrate through their spinal cord and around the brain, causing damage that can be fatal. Preventing brainworm infection is important to livestock owners, and a proposed method of mitigating risk is gastropod control. Snail populations can be controlled by introducing poultry (e.g. ducks); however, it is unknown whether the poultry are at risk or if they might even contribute to larvae dispersal.

The goals of this project were to determine a) whether ducks are an effective control for snails, b) whether ducks are at risk of harm when ingesting brainworm-infected gastropods, and c) whether P. tenuis larvae can survive the avian digestive tract to potentially go on to infect livestock.Ducks were fed infected snails in trials to monitor how many snails they eat, whether they exhibited any neurological signs, odd behaviors, or illness, and whether any parasites are present in the feces. The birds were not expected to be infected or to have larvae present in the feces. Evaluating poultry as a potential method for brainworm control could help inform livestock management decisions, potentially leading to lower risk of P. tenuis infection.