U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version

March 2001


Published in Veterinary Parasitology 95 (2001) 327-334. www.elsevier.com/locate/vetpar.


Sporocysts of Sarcocystis falcatula obtained from experimentally infected Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana) were inoculated orally to 60 wild-caught Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater). Another 30 Brown-headed Cowbirds were not challenged and served as uninfected controls. Two inoculated and one control cowbird were necropsied every 2 weeks and the pectoral and thigh muscles were examined grossly for cyst development. Stained histologic sections of pectoral muscle, thigh muscle, and lung were examined by light microscopy and presence, density, and size of sarcocysts were determined. Sarcocysts were present by 6 weeks post-inoculation (PI) and were still growing at 40 weeks PI. The sarcocysts from birds 40 weeks post-infection were infective to an opossum. The morphology of the sarcocyst wall by transmission electron microscopy substantiated the identification as S. falcatula. Lung sections were examined for the presence of schizonts, but were seen only at 2 weeks PI. This evaluation was complicated by the presence of unidentified microfilariae. These birds are migratory and the continued growth and development of muscle cysts would allow them to be a source of infection at both extremes of their geographic range, regardless of which end of the migration at which they were infected.