A deadly fungal disease that’s infecting snakes in the eastern and midwestern United States doesn’t appear to discriminate by species, size or habitat, researchers report online December 20 in Science Advances. The infection, caused by the fungal pathogen Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, can cover snakes’ bodies with lesions that make it hard for the reptiles to do normal snake things like slither and eat. Many eventually die from the infection. Fungal spores hang around in the soil and can spread to snakes that pick the particles up. The disease has been likened to the chytrid fungus that’s wiping out amphibian populations worldwide, or the white-nose syndrome that’s killing off entire caves of bats.
In snakes, the disease not only “could result in the downfall of vulnerable species, but could also impact whole communities,” says Bruce Kingsbury, a biologist at Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne, who was not part of the study. Snakes are important predators in many ecosystems — if the reptiles go, then populations of small mammals that they help control could boom, throwing the ecosystem out of whack.
Source: Science News, Dec 20, 2017
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