Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch

RPQRR offers free screening for eyeworms / cecal worms

EyewormsWith less than a month of quail season remaining, you have a homework assignment. We are soliciting quail heads/specimens to screen them for eyeworms and cecal worms. If you’ve been following our Facebook page you’re probably already on task. If not, it’s time to hit the field.

We believe the eyeworm has reached epidemic status over this past season, at least across much of the Rolling Plains. By screening quail across the state we hope to learn just how widespread the problem is/was.

Click here for the protocol and data sheet for handling/shipping specimens to us for this free service. We anticipate receiving perhaps 2,000 specimens so be patient for your individual results; it may be June before we get all of the specimens necropsied.

Jess Newsome (QM ’17) provided this report (and tip) from Kent Co. last month.

“Encouraged by the eyeworm focus of your January RPQRR newsletter, I made my first attempt at eyeworm inspection this week on six bobwhites harvested in central Kent County. All six birds were infected, ranging from 5-27 worms. I only collected worms from the front of the eye, under the nictitating membrane; I did not remove the eyeball. The inspection was done approximately 2-6 hours after harvesting the birds. I observed worms from 1/8″ to 7/16″ long; some still wriggling. I also found that a soft pick (with tiny barbs) used for dental cleaning was a particularly handy probe for collecting the eyeworms especially for an old man with bifocals and shaky hands.”

Any questions, please e-mail or call me at 325-653-0311 or RPQRR manager Lloyd Lacoste (325-660-6551). For instructions to submit samples, click here.

Eyeworm updates

“Anyone who thinks we don’t have a problem with eyeworms should ‘open their eyes.” – Joe Crafton

“Tell me, and I forget.  Show me, and I remember.  Involve me, and I understand.” – Chinese proverb

eyeworm1This proverb serves as the motto for the Bobwhite Brigade.  It’s also a proper epithet for this month’s lead story on eyeworms.  Much of the information herein stems from a couple of recent hunts in Stonewall Co. by RPQRF Board member Joe Crafton; Crafton also serves as Chairman of Park Cities Quail.

“I have been talking about the eyeworm since I first heard about it 4 years ago.   I have read technical papers, listened to presentations and made presentations.   I have been to Dr. Ron Kendall’s laboratory and looked through microscopes at the little buggers   I have even filmed video about them.   However, I must admit, I have not regularly examined the birds that I harvested. But that changed this past month.

I was hunting in Stonewall County.   The first bird that I inspected gave me chills.  It had numerous eyeworms of enormous size.   As I looked through the 30 birds that day, I found 8 with eyeworms and another 4 who were missing an entire eye. All they had was one good eye and an empty eye socket.  Keep in mind, these are the ones I could see on the surface of the eye. I will never again enjoy angel hair pasta!

I have come to realize that it is important to inspect them while the body is still warm so that the parasites do not leave the body.  I put them in separate zip-top bags and sent them to the lab for study. Even though I only spotted eyeworms in 8 of the 30 samples.  Dr. Kendall’s lab performed necropsies and found them in 100% of the samples.  One of these birds had 76 eyeworms. Another had 966 cecal worms.  In the future I plan to give each eye a look before dropping them in the box.

eyeworm_demoSee this video ( of a different quail than the one I sent last week.   The first thing I notice when I am looking at a heavily infected bird is the milky, inflamed nictitating membrane around the edge of the eye.  If you notice from this video, when I applied pressure on the membrane, it is full of worms.    Next hunt, I am going to experiment to see if it makes a difference in checking right away or an hour after the bird dies to see if more worms emerge from the back of the eye.   I suspect that is the case.

When I showed the video to hunters from Shackelford and Clay counties, they wondered if they had a problem.   I think it would be extremely helpful if we had similar indisputable proof from all over West Texas and Oklahoma.

To twist an old phrase “a problem is when your friend’s ranch has parasites…an epidemic is when your ranch has parasites!”

Our recent posts regarding eyeworms have really “moved the needle” with you all. One post (by Crafton on 12/18) garnered more than 49,500 views, 200+ comments and 240 “shares” so far. We appreciate your help spreading the word about eyeworms and quail. If you encounter any quail with eyeworms (or missing an eye), we encourage you to post the information to our Facebook page (we’d love a photo or two, as well). Alternatively, feel free to email us at to let us know your findings.

As a reminder, the key to checking a quail for eyeworms is to stretch the eye open and apply downward pressure with your thumbs on both edges of the eyes. Sometimes worms will immediately come out from the third eyelid (the “nictitating membrane”) and move around on the surface.  We look forward to hearing what you all are seeing afield!

Update from Dr. Kendall’s lab

In terms of eyeworm infection in wild Northern bobwhite quail, we generally find the worms located in the lacrimal duct and associated ducts in the rear of the eye. Therefore, the eye would need to be removed to get a complete count—heavy infections can be seen quite easily with the naked eye. In addition, say for instance in a hunter-shot bird, the body temperature of the bird will begin to drop rapidly and we believe this may cause the worms to move more into the frontal part of the eye, like under the nictitating membrane. However, at times, we see worms on the surface of the eye, particularly under the nictitating membrane, in wild-trapped quail.

What we are starting to observe is that these infections, say in the case of the eyeworm as well as the cecal worm, are not necessarily evenly distributed across the Rolling Plains. For instance, we have seen significant differences in quail infection with even a 15-20 mile difference in location. We are beginning to learn much more on this situation with the full deployment of the Mobile Research Laboratory, where we will be able to acquire extensive wild quail parasitic infection data in order to better evaluate the epidemiology of these infection events.

What we do know now is that once infection occurs within a wild Northern bobwhite quail, these nematode parasites are very long-lived and will probably be within the wild quail even to the quail’s death, either by environmental stress or predation.

We are learning more and more on the degree of, and implications of, parasitic infections in our wild quail in the Rolling Plains ecoregion of West Texas. We do know that it occurs widely, can intensify quickly, and the field and laboratory evidence is mounting that there are serious consequences for our wild quail with these infections. I know that everyone wants answers to all of the questions tomorrow, but the good science that we are trying to do is laborious, and time-consuming. Staying the course requires patience, tenacity, funding, and the wherewithal of the Wildlife Toxicology Laboratory at Texas Tech University to get the job done. You can follow our scientific publications and lab progress at For a list of scientific publications arising from Dr. Kendall’s work on the eyeworm, see—publications.html.

Operation Idiopathic Decline: Search for the Smoking Gun

The role that disease and parasites may play in quail dynamics has been largely ignored since the 1920s. After the (in our opinion) inexplicable decline of quail in the Rolling Plains, the Board of RPQRF “got serious” about disease and funded a comprehensive project dubbed “Operation Idiopathic Decline.” Currently (as of Feb 2014), the RPQRF has invested $3.4 million into this ground-breaking study of disease and parasites. This webisode explains OID in more depth.

Team Quail AgriLife Research AgriLife Extension Ceasar Klemerg Wildlife Research Park Cities Quail Unlimited

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