Effects of chronic, low concentrations of dietary methylmercury on the behavior of juvenile great egrets


We measured the behavioral effects of methylmercury on 16 great egret chicks (Ardea albus) in a captive dosing experiment. Birds were randomly divided into a control group and groups that received 0.5 or 5 mg methylmercury chloride per kilogram of food at between 12 and 105 d of age. We recorded activity levels, maintenance behavior, and foraging efficiency and determined that mercury affected activity and maintenance behavior. Birds dosed with 5 mg/kg became severely ataxic and were euthanized by 12 weeks of age. We found that, during the postfledging period, there were no differences between low-dose and placebo birds in time required to capture live fish in pools or in efficiency of capture. We did find that low-dose birds were less likely to hunt fish. Our results suggest that, at the 0.5 mg/kg concentration in food, there are significant effects of methylmercury on activity, tendency to seek shade, and motivation to hunt prey.

Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry