Blood cell histology of Homopus areolatus: effects of season and cohort
Homopus areolatus is an endemic terrestrial tortoise that resides in a Mediterranean type of climate, which is characterised by winter rainfall and mild winter temperatures. Within ectotherms, such as H. areolatus, physiological changes are elicited by changes in the ambient temperature. These physiological changes are evident in the blood profile of reptiles. I described the morphology of immature and mature erythrocytes, leukocytes as well as thrombocytes of H. areolatus. Additionally, I evaluated erythrocytes, leukocytes and thrombocytes to assess the effects of season and cohort on these cells. Blood samples were collected in 2000 and 2001 at Elandsberg Nature Reserve in the Western Cape from H. areolatus cohorts (female, male, juvenile) in all seasons (spring, summer, autumn, winter). Blood smears were made and stained with modified Giemsa stain. SigmaStat was used for all statistical analysis. Immature erythrocyte types within H. areolatus included basophilic rubricytes, polychromatophilic rubricytes and polychromatophilic erythrocytes. Upon my evaluation, I encountered evidence to suggest that small and large immature erythrocytes possibly developed from two distinctive lineages. Further research is required to discern which lineage gave rise to which immature erythrocyte type. Cohort had no effect upon immature erythrocytes. Erythropoiesis was most prevalent during winter and spring within H. areolatus. Aberrant features of erythrocytes appeared to be more prevalent during autumn, which signified the driest season with limited food and water. Mature erythrocytes play a huge role in oxygen transport and metabolism in individuals. Factors such as size and shape are relevant since small, mature, ellipsoidal erythrocytes transport oxygen more efficiently than large, spherical erythrocytes. In H. areolatus small, mature, ellipsoidal erythrocytes appeared to be most prevalent during spring and summer. During winter however, large, spherical erythrocytes appeared to be most prevalent. Thrombocytes and seven types of leukocytes were observed within H. areolatus, namely heterophils, lymphocytes, eosinophils, basophils, monocytes, plasma cells and azurophils. Among cohort and season heterophils were most prevalent overall, followed by lymphocytes and eosinophils respectively. Basophils, monocytes, plasma cells and azurophils were present but overall, were relatively few. H. areolatus appeared to be healthy, and leukocyte counts as well as its dimensions appeared to be in accordance with other reptilian studies. This study serves as the first baseline haematological reference forH. areolatus. The study forms the second of its kind on South African tortoises, only one other haematological study has been done namely, P. geometricus which is a sympatric species to H. areolatus.