Snakes become infected with a rare skin disease that causes crusty scales and cloudy eyes, a condition that plagues the eastern US.
Known as snake fungal disease (SFD), scientists at the US Geological Survey said the spread of the rare but mysterious disease — which only occurs in snakes — has “increased significantly” since it was first discovered in 2008.
“Recently, the number of reported cases of skin infections in snakes has risen sharply,” the agency wrote on its Facebook page.
Snakes are infected with a rare skin disease, snake fungal disease, which ravages the eastern US. It causes the snake’s scales to develop crusts or sores (with abnormal bumps) under the skin, as well as other conditions such as abnormal peeling and a white opaque, cloudy appearance in their eyes
In April 2019, two snakes were found in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana, “affected with lesions consistent with SFD, which is known from this site.”
The USGS also found a healthy water snake with a flat stomach in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana, in April 2019, despite the area being known for SFD
‘As of August 2017, [Ophidiomyces ophidiicola] has been detected in much of the eastern half of the United States.”
The USGS found flat-bellied water snakes in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana, in April 2019, including one healthy and two that were “affected with lesions consistent with SFD, which is known from this site.”
It causes the snake’s scales to develop crusts or sores (with abnormal bumps) under the skin, as well as other conditions such as abnormal peeling and a white opaque, cloudy appearance in their eyes.
It can also “cause facial disfigurements that can be quite serious, leading to emaciation and death,” the USGS added.
“Many snake populations are already declining due to habitat loss and declining prey populations, and SFD can accelerate this decline.”
Scientists at the USGS have previously identified the causative agent of SFD, a fungus known as Ophidiomyces ophidiicola, but are still unsure how it spreads, according to a study published in April.
“The causative agent, Ophidiomyces ophidiicola (Oo), is detectable in environmentally derived soils,” researchers wrote in the study.
‘However, little is known about the distribution of Oo in the environment and the persistence and growth of Oo in the soil.’
Different species are affected in different ways, with some, including wood rattlesnakes and the Easter Massasauga, experiencing “significant mortality,” according to a 2019 statement from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Others may only suffer from “mild infections,” the agency added at the time.
It’s possible that environmental changes could account for the “recent emergence of serious and fatal infections in some snake populations,” the USGS has said. said earlier.
SFD is not transmissible from snakes to humans and has been observed in more than 30 species in Europe and the US, where it has been observed in “at least 23 states,” according to one fact sheet of the USGS.
In 2018, it was also spotted in Idaho, as well as southern Ontario, Canada.