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DNR: Fungal disease lethal to snakes identified in state

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An emerging fungal disease lethal to some snakes has been found in Indiana, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources is reporting.

Snake fungal disease, caused by the fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, is not a risk to humans but in snakes it can cause facial swelling, disfigurement, skin and scale lesions, internal lesions, and death, the DNR said in a statement released this week.

A team of researchers led by Matt Allender and Sarah Baker of the University of Illinois discovered the disease during surveillance in late 2017, after swabbing the skin of 53 snakes from Indiana and identifying the fungus in 13 of them. “Two of the 13 had visible lesions,” the DNR said. “Species that tested positive included Northern watersnake, racer, milk snake, and queen snake.”

Sampling has occurred in 10 Indiana counties and will resume this year.

“The fungus is an emerging pathogen identified in many diverse species of captive and free-ranging snakes in more than 20 states so far,” the DNR noted. “It can persist in the soil. How the disease spreads is unknown, but it may occur through contact with soil, other infected snakes, or from mother to offspring.”

“Snake fungal disease may cause high mortality rates in Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes, a federally threatened and state-endangered species that lives in scattered locations Northern Indiana,” the DNR added. “The potential long-term effect on massasauga and other snake populations is uncertain.”

Learn more about snake fungal disease at wildlife.IN.gov/9704.htm

Other emerging fungal diseases, including white-nose syndrome in bats and chytridiomycosis in amphibians, have been implicated in population declines of numerous species.

“Snakes are important predators,” the DNR said. “They play a critical role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem and keeping rodent populations in check. Monitoring fungal disease in Indiana snakes will help biologists develop conservation and management plans.”

This snake fungal disease project was funded by a state wildlife grant. Conservation of nongame and endangered species is supported by donations to the Indiana Nongame Wildlife Fund. To donate, go to wildlife.IN.gov/3316.htm

 

 

Posted 5/16/2018

 
 
 
 

 

 

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