U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Date of this Version



Published in J. Anim. Sci. (2011) 89:1650-1657; Doi:10.2527/jas.2010-3444


Death camas (Zigadenus spp.) is a common poisonous plant on foothill rangelands in western North America. The steroidal alkaloid zygacine is believed to be the primary toxic component in death camas. Poisonings on rangelands generally occur in the spring when death camas is abundant, whereas other more desirable forage species are limited in availability. In most cases where livestock are poisoned by plants in a range setting, there is more than one potential poisonous plant in that area. One common poisonous plant that is often found growing simultaneously in the same area as death camas is low larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum). Consequently, the objectives of this study were to conduct acute toxicity studies in mice and to determine if coadministration of low larkspur will exacerbate the toxicity of death camas. We first characterized the acute toxicity of zygacine in mice. The LD50 of zygacine administered intravenously (i.v.) and orally was 2.0 ± 0.2 and 132 ± 21 mg/kg, respectively. The rate of elimination of zygacine from whole blood was determined to be 0.06 ± 0.01/min, which corresponds to an elimination half-life of 13.0 ± 2.7 min. The i.v. LD50 of total alkaloid extracts from a Utah and a Nevada collection were 2.8 ± 0.8 and 2.2 ± 0.3 mg/kg, respectively. The i.v. LD50 of methyllycaconitine (MLA), a major toxic alkaloid in low larkspur, was 4.6 ± 0.5 mg/kg, whereas the i.v. LD50 of a 1:1 mixture of MLA and zygacine was 2.9 ± 0.7 mg/kg. The clinical signs in mice treated with this mixture were very similar to those of mice treated with zygacine alone, including the time of onset and death. These results suggest that there is an additive effect of coadministering these 2 alkaloids i.v. in mice. The results from this study increase knowledge and understanding regarding the acute toxicity of death camas. As combined intoxications are most likely common, this information will be useful in further developing management recommendations for ranchers and in designing additional experiments to study the toxicity of death camas to livestock.