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Snake Fungal Disease Could Spread Globally, Report Says

Snake fungal disease can kill snakes within a few days.

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Snake fungal disease, a disease that has infected 23 wild snake species in the United States and three snake species in Europe, is a threat globally to virtually all snake species, according to a report published in the journal Science Advances. 

The disease has been found primarily in rat snakes, milk snakes, garter snakes and vipers in the eastern section of the United States, but has also been detected in grass snakes (Natrix natrix) in the U.K. and on dice snakes (Natrix tessellata) in the Czech Republic. 


The following North American snakes are confirmed to have been exposed to the disease: 

  • 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)
  • milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum)

The disease creates lesions on the snake’s skin and can quickly spread to cover the snake’s body. 

"They start getting these blisters and then all kinds of secondary infections from it, it can kill snakes quite rapidly actually, I've seen them go down in a matter of a few days," Dr. Frank Burbrink, of the American Museum of Natural History and lead author of the study, told BBC News.
"The demographic of the disease and how its really working across all these species and populations are unknown, but we do know that it can take populations down, it can have 100% mortality in some."

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Snake Fungal Disease Formally Identified

The researchers looked at the evolutionary history, ecology and physical traits of known infected species and built a model in an effort to try and determine what other species may be susceptible to the disease. They determined, based on their model that virtually all snake species in the eastern United States may be at risk of the disease, and that the disease could spread globally. 
"We don't really know if it's getting worse all of a sudden, there are a lot of question marks, we have got to start getting a handle on this and assess how really bad this is,” Burbrink told the BBC. “We know it can be bad but we don't know how bad it really is." 

The full text of the research paper, “Host susceptibility to snake fungal disease is highly dispersed across phylogenetic and functional trait space” can be read on the Science Advances website