There’s a new nasty fungus attacking snakes in the Eastern U.S. Scientists have isolated the fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola from diseased snakes and they think this may be what’s causing Snake Fungal Disease (SFD) although more testing is needed. Snakes with lesions of their face and bodies have been found in several states since the disease was first reported in 2006. To date, nine states have been confirmed to have snakes with SFD: Illinois, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. However, researchers believe that more states may have infected snakes. So far no infected snakes have been reported from the Western U.S. The snakes reported with SFD are northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon), eastern racer (Coluber constrictor), rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus species complex), timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus), pygmy rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius), and milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum).
What does the disease look like? “The most consistent clinical signs of SFD include scabs or crusty scales, subcutaneous nodules, premature separation of the outermost layer of the skin (stratum corneum) from the underlying skin (or abnormal molting), white opaque cloudiness of the eyes (not associated with molting), or localized thickening or crusting of the skin (hyperkeratosis). Skin ulcers, swelling of the face, and nodules in the deeper tissues of the head have also been documented. Clinical signs of SFD and disease severity may vary by snake species. Aside from the presence of fungi with disease-associated lesions, specific pathological criteria for the disease have not yet been established.” USGS National Wildlife Health Center
Mortality is known to occur in snakes with severe SFD infections.
Here are some photos from the USGS National Wildlife Health Center showing different species of snakes with SFD.
What can you do to help?
If you come across any snakes in the wild or in captivity that show similar infects please photograph them if you can (always be safe photographing wild snakes especially venomous ones). Report your findings to either your local fish and wildlife service or to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center either through their Contact Us or through their Instructions for Reporting Wildlife Mortality Events.
Always clean and sanitize your field gear between sites and outings. This includes wiping off snake hooks, tongs, stump rippers, etc. as well as washing snake bags and any other holding containers. It’s always a good idea to clean off your gear to prevent the spread of not just because of SFD but any potential pathogens like chytrid or ranavirus.
Don’t remove wild snakes
To also help prevent the spread of SFD don’t remove any wild snakes from their habitat and don’t relocate them (if possible). If you bring home an infected snake the infection could potentially spread to any pet snakes you may have. Relocating an infected snake into a different habitat can also potentially spread the disease to new snakes.