OCT 11, 2020 9:35 AM PDT

Fungal Disease Affecting Snakes Is More Widespread Than Thought

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

A team of researchers and personnel on military bases in 31 states and Puerto Rico completed a project in which they looked for an emerging fungal pathogen that affects snakes to see how widespread it is. Their effort revealed snakes infected with fungi on military bases in 19 states and Puerto Rico. Those findings, which were reported in PLOS ONE, show that this fungus is affecting snakes in more places than was known. In 2006, this fungal disease was first confirmed in timber rattlesnakes in New Hampshire.

Imagecredit: Pxhere

"Ophidiomycosis, formerly known as 'snake fungal disease,' is an emerging infectious disease caused by the fungus Ophidiomyces ophidiicola," said the study leader, Dr. Matt Allender, a professor in the veterinary diagnostic laboratory at the University of Illinois (U of I) Urbana-Champaign. "It has been documented in over 15 genera of wild and captive snakes. Infection with the pathogen causes a wide range of clinical signs in snakes, from difficulty shedding skin to crusts and ulcers on the head and body, and even death in some cases."

"We looked for this pathogen in samples from 657 snakes and found that 17 percent were infected. Our findings include the first reports of this disease in Oklahoma, Idaho, and Puerto Rico," noted Allender, who is an ophidiomycosis expert and the director of the Wildlife Epidemiology Lab at the U of I.

In this work, the researchers examined swabs obtained from snakes that represent 58 different species. They created a diagnostic assay for the fungal disease that utilized qPCR, which can make more copies of specific sequences of DNA and indicate how severe a fungal infection is. The team also examined the snakes for signs of disease including scabs. This work revealed pathogens in 113 samples from snakes representing 25 different species, including eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, copperheads, Puerto Rican boas, sidewinders, and whip snakes.

Adults were found to be more likely to have ophidiomycosis than younger snakes, and there was a greater likelihood of ophidiomycosis in snakes that were sampled in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Virginia, while samples from Idaho had the lowest likelihood of diagnosis. That may mean the fungus is more widely distributed among eastern US snakes than we knew, and that the disease could expand into the west, noted Allender.

Habitat loss, infectious disease, and climate change are pressuring snakes around the world. Snakes can benefit humans by controlling the population of small animals that can carry diseases like hanatavirus and Lyme disease, noted Allender, who added that unexpectedly, military bases may provide sanctuary to threatened or endangered snake species.

"Ophidiomycosis has potentially serious consequences for the success of snake conservation efforts in North America, threatening biodiversity across several habitats," Allender said.

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign News Bureau, PLOS One

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
SEP 30, 2021
Plants & Animals
You Can Take Food Security Into Your Own Hands by Growing Microgreens
SEP 30, 2021
You Can Take Food Security Into Your Own Hands by Growing Microgreens
Microgreens might seem like a passing food trend to some, but to others they could be a way for individuals and families ...
SEP 30, 2021
Cannabis Sciences
Illegal Cannabis Grow Sites Could be Poisoning Threatened Animals
SEP 30, 2021
Illegal Cannabis Grow Sites Could be Poisoning Threatened Animals
Cannabis has been legalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in many US states, which is thought to be driving a r ...
OCT 06, 2021
Plants & Animals
Ubirajara Ownership Dispute Leads to Retraction of Dino Paper
OCT 06, 2021
Ubirajara Ownership Dispute Leads to Retraction of Dino Paper
Late last year, researchers reported the discovery of an unusual dinosaur fossil called Ubirajara in Brazil / Artwork © ...
OCT 21, 2021
Immunology
Sunshine Vitamin Boosts Dairy Cows' Immunity
OCT 21, 2021
Sunshine Vitamin Boosts Dairy Cows' Immunity
A new study shows how vitamin D can help dairy cows fend off infections, offering opportunities for better animal health ...
OCT 18, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Bugs Tell Scientists How Polluted Waters Are
OCT 18, 2021
Bugs Tell Scientists How Polluted Waters Are
Water quality changes all over the globe as humans change land use and develop communities near water. The increase in t ...
OCT 27, 2021
Earth & The Environment
To Combat Deforestation, Research Reveals that Policy Timing is Key
OCT 27, 2021
To Combat Deforestation, Research Reveals that Policy Timing is Key
A duo of Stanford researchers have recently released a study in Global Sustainability that reveals the timing of policy ...
Loading Comments...