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article imageSnake fungus causing havoc in North America

By Tim Sandle     Jun 23, 2015 in Science
Washington - Snakes in North America are under threat from a fungus similar to the "white nose" disease that has been affecting bat populations. New research draws parallels between the two diseases.
The research highlights similarities and differences between two fungal disease afflicting North American wildlife. The snake killing fungus is called Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola (which doesn't easily roll of the tongue) and the bat killing fungus is chillingly termed Pseudogymnoascus destructans. The bat fungus, due to it causing a white powdery deposit on the nose of the bat, has been dubbed "white nose" syndrome. The disease’s progress has been documented on Digital Journal.
White nose syndrome saps the energy from bats and disorientates them. It leads to the death of 90 percent of infected animals. With snakes, the fungus, known simply as Snake Fungal Disease, attacks the cells of the skin of the snake (keratin). The mortality rate is 100 percent. The types of snakes suffering from the disease include northern water snakes, eastern racers, rat snakes, timber rattlesnakes, Eastern massasaugas, pygmy rattlesnakes and garter snakes.
While the two destructive fungi inhabit different ecological niches and exist at different temperatures, the fungi are similar in that they are found across different habitats and they have the ability to infect various species.
Furthermore, both fungi, which occur in soil, contain similar enzymes. Both diseases appeared around the same time in North America, being identified in the mid-2000s. The disease has also spread at a very fast rate.
Both fungi can grow and survive on dead and decaying matter. They do need to infect an animal as part of their survival mechanism. Researchers are unsure what triggered the fungus to begin a widespread series of infections of living creatures. It is speculated that both fungi have been around for a long time, but the infection of bats and snakes is a very recent occurrence.
The outcome of the research has been published in the journal Fungal Ecology. The research paper is called “The natural history, ecology, and epidemiology of Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola and its potential impact on free-ranging snake populations.”
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