Plasmodium mexicanum is a malaria parasite that naturally infects the western fence lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis, in northern California. We set out to determine whether lizards naturally infected with this malaria parasite have different leukocyte profiles, indicating an immune response to infection. We used 29 naturally infected western fence lizards paired with uninfected lizards based on sex, snout-to-vent length, tail status, and the presence–absence of ectoparasites such as ticks and mites, as well as the presence–absence of another hemoparasite, Schellackia occidentalis. Complete white blood cell (WBC) counts were conducted on blood smears stained with Giemsa, and the proportion of granulocytes per microliter of blood was estimated using the Avian Leukopet method. The abundance of each WBC class (lymphocytes, monocytes, heterophils, eosinophils, and basophils) in infected and uninfected lizards was compared to determine whether leukocyte densities varied with infection status. We found that the numbers of WBCs and lymphocytes per microliter of blood significantly differed (P < 0.05) between the 2 groups for females but not for males, whereas parasitemia was significantly correlated with lymphocyte counts for males, but not for females. This study supports the theory that infection with P. mexicanum stimulates the lizard's immune response to increase the levels of circulating WBCs, but what effect this has on the biology of the parasite remains unclear.

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