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Herps In The News Local or national articles where reptiles or amphibians have made it into the news media. Please cite sources.

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Old 11-08-2019, 02:35 PM   #1
Fungus Makes Snakes Look Like Mummies

A fungal disease is infecting snakes across the nation, and now, it's reached California.

A newly emerging disease infects snakes and causes their skin to crust, eyes to cloud and faces to swell and now, a stricken serpent has been spotted in California.

This is the first case of "snake fungal disease" seen in the state, according to a statement from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). The infected California kingsnake was found in the Sierra Nevada in Amador County by a member of the public who brought the "emaciated and suffering" animal to a wildlife care center. Tattered skin clung to the animal's warped face, making the cloudy-eyed snake look more like a mummy than a living creature.

As of yet, officials don't know how the disease might impact snake populations in California. Right now, their top priority is to make sure humans don't spread the fungus to snakes across the state.

There's no danger of humans catching the disfiguring snake disease, though. "There is no evidence that SFD is transmittable from snakes to humans," the report added.

Scientists first characterized snake fungal disease in 2008 and learned that a fungus called Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola causes the infection, according to CDFW. Since then, researchers have found the infectious organism in 30 snake species in the U.S. and Europe, 23 U.S. states and one Canadian province. Snakes can pick up the fungus through abrasions in their skin or physical contact with infected snakes. A severe infection causes the skin to become bumpy and molt repeatedly, while the affected snake's face may become too disfigured for the animal to feed properly. The weakened snakes tend to rest in open areas, vulnerable to the elements and nearby predators.

While O. ophiodiicola stands as the leading cause of skin infection among wild snakes, the contagion often only causes a mild infection and doesn't kill the affected animal, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Environmental changes may be behind the "recent emergence of severe and fatal infections in some snake populations," USGS scientists said.

Snake fungal disease poses a threat to dwindling snake populations, including the timber rattlesnake and the federally threatened eastern massasauga, according to the CDFW statement. Officials encourage the public to report any sightings of snakes with skin sores or unusual behavior, but avoid handling or disturbing the animals. Just this week, the fungus was detected in tissues from a dead Florida water snake found by the CDFW in Folsom, Sacramento County, according to the organization's report.
Old 11-09-2019, 12:33 AM   #2
Oh, that photo is so hideous looking! What a terrible fungus for the poor snakes to endure. I see where scientists first learned the fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola causes the infection in 2008. What I don't read is what they have done since then to treat / eliminate the fungus.

Thanks for sharing, Joe.
Old 11-09-2019, 09:22 AM   #3
There isn't much we can do to treat this disease. The fungus appears to be a widespread environmental fungus in the eastern United States that, for whatever reason, went pathogenic. Eastern indigo snakes have been "successfully" treated in captivity by Dr. Terry Norton at the Jekyll Island Sea Turtle Center, although I don't think he's published anything on his results yet, the sample size is too low. I use the word "successfully" in quotation marks because an elimination of external symptoms doesn't mean the individuals are fully clear of the infection, which often manifests itself when animals are immune-suppressed, such as during winter brumation. The treatment requires a long stay in captivity and for obvious reasons simply wouldn't work on the numbers of snakes we see infected.

However, for it to jump the Rockies I suspect eastern herpers didn't clean their boots before traveling to the west, and fungal spores were transported to novel areas. This is the same exact scenario we witnessed with white-nose syndrome in bats, another devastating fungal disease.
Old 11-10-2019, 06:51 AM   #4
I've now read multiple credible sources about Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola fungus and how it has affected snakes in the southeast US, with no cure. I understand now why it is devastating that this fungus has been found in CA. Obviously, this fungus needs to be wiped out.

Thanks Vanessa for the info. And thanks Joe for posting.

And yeah, I know about the white-nose syndrome / fungus that screwed up my bat houses a couple years ago. A different fungus, but deadly and really impacted the population I loved and watched every dusk when able.

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