Winthrop professor searching for ‘cold-blooded’ animal killer on SC coast

adouglas@heraldonline.comJune 19, 2013 

A Winthrop University professor is on the hunt for the “cold-blooded killer” significantly impacting animals at a wildlife refuge in South Carolina.

Over the next year, biology faculty member Matthew Heard will visit the Hobcaw Barony wildlife refuge in Georgetown to study the affect of ranaviruses on amphibians and reptiles.

The research is supported by about $5,000 in grant money.

The ranaviruses have been dubbed a “cold-blooded killer” because of the wide-spread impact they have on wildlife.

Heard is one of two scholars chosen to conduct the research on the 17,500-acre refuge.

Wildlife experts say ranaviruses were discovered in the 1960s but until mass deaths among fish, amphibians and reptiles, the disease’s affect was not realized.

“This is one of several diseases causing deformities, developmental problems or mass death,” Heard said in a university news release.

"It is scary because it can hurt several different species."

Ranaviruses pose a threat to amphibians and turtles already at risk of extinction in S.C., and across the nation, he said.

Heard’s study of the disease is the first of its kind in the state.

Three Winthrop students will assist with the research by collecting tissue samples from the animal at the reserve.

Next summer, the group’s findings will be published.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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