A deadly fungus is infecting snake species seemingly at random

  It doesn’t matter if it’s a burly rattler or a tiny garter snake. 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.

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.

The fungus appears to be infecting species at random, the researchers found. It doesn’t seem to matter whether a snake was big or small, whether it lived primarily in water or burrowed on land, or whether it laid many eggs or just a few. “It’s about as bad as you can get. It seems like any snake could be a candidate.”

In snakes, the disease not only “could result in the downfall of vulnerable species, but could also impact whole communities,” says a biologist. 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.

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