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A fungus threatens to exterminate snakes the world over

Swollen wounds and necrosis: the effects of the fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola on snakes Credits: National Wildlife Health Center

According to a new study, regardless of their species, practically every snake on the planet could at some stage be infected by a fungus that attacks their skin. 

The culprit is the microscopic fungus called Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, identified in the early 2000s. It infects the skin of snakes, causing a multitude of swollen wounds and necrosis. It endangers their lives, unless they receive treatment, but there is not much cause for optimism.

In fact, it is claimed that 83% of the world’s snakes are likely to be infected by this fungus. This figure relates to most common snakes, belonging to the family of Colubroides (e.g., vipers and grass snakes). On the other hand, boas, pythons and other Alethinophidia do not appear to be affected.

During Summer 2017, researchers published a study highlighting the harmful effects of this fungus all over Europe, which affects dozens of species. On the 20th December 2017, American herpetologist Frank Burbrink of the Natural History Museum in New York published a second study, reporting an increase in the fungus in the east of the United States (which was observed for the first time in 2006), affecting 23 species. It is in fact a different strain than its European cousin, although the researcher has drawn some alarming conclusions:

“The fungus does not seem to have any limits and could infect all species, wherever they live. Therefore, we shouldn’t concentrate solely on certain species of snakes”. 

The first study also reported the presence of two other fungi (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans) which also attack salamanders.

Sources: Digital JournalJournal de l’environnementScience & Vie