An emerging fungal disease lethal to some snakes has been found in Indiana.
Snake fungal disease, caused by the fungus, Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, is not a risk to people, but in snakes it can cause facial swelling, disfigurement, skin and scale lesions, internal lesions and death.
A team of researchers led by Matt Allender and Sarah Baker of the University of Illinois discovered the disease during surveillance in late 2017.
Researchers swabbed the skin of 53 snakes from Indiana and identified the fungus in 13 of them. Two of the 13 had visible lesions. 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. 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 in northern Indiana. The potential long-term effect on massasauga and other snake populations remains 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. 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 surveillance project was funded by a state wildlife grant.
Conservation of nongame and endangered species in Indiana is supported by donations to the Indiana Nongame Wildlife Fund. To donate, visit wildlife.IN.gov/3316.htm