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article imageDeadly snake fungus has now been found in wild snakes in Europe

By Karen Graham     Jun 26, 2017 in Science
A fungal disease that has been killing wild snakes in over 30 states in the U.S. and Canada has now been identified for the first time in wild snakes in Europe, according to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
Snake fungal disease (SFD) is an emerging disease of great concern in North America. Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, the causative agent of SFD, has been isolated from over 30 species of wild snakes from six families in North America and in Canada, reported Digital Journal on June 12.
You might think that given the trade in wild and captive bred snakes from North America, the disease was sure to spread, but this may not be the cause. The ZSL, a conservation charity in the UK, along with collaboration from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) published their findings in the journal Nature last week,
SFD is characterized by symptoms that include skin lesions, scabs and crusty scales, which can contribute to the death of the infected animal. Prior to this study, the only wild populations of snakes infected with SFD were found in the United States and Canada, where it was first identified in 2009.
The researchers in this latest study examined samples collected from 33 carcasses and 303 molted skins of wild snakes in the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic between 2010-2016, which led to the confirmation of SFD in Europe. The fungus was detected using real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing in 26 (8.6 percent) of the specimens across the period of collection.
A northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon)  which was captured in 2009 from an island in western Lake ...
A northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon), which was captured in 2009 from an island in western Lake Erie, Ohio. The snake has crusty and thickened scales over raised blisters, a sign of snake fungal disease.
D. E. Green/USGS National Wildlife Health Center
An interesting peculiarity of the European fungus
Lead author and wildlife veterinarian Dr. Lydia Franklinos said: "Our team at ZSL found evidence of SFD in grass snakes (Natrix natrix) from the UK and a single dice snake (Natrix tessellata) from the Czech Republic," reports Science News Online.
"The analysis found that the fungus strains from Europe are different to those previously identified in North America - suggesting that rather than being introduced across the Atlantic, or vice versa, the disease could have been present below the radar in European snakes for some time," Dr. Frankinos added.
In particular, the European strain of O. ophiodiicola grew more slowly than the North American strain when cultured in the laboratory. And a phylogenetic analysis of isolates indicated the O. ophiodiicola strain in European snakes was in a distinctly different clade from North American isolates.
This is interesting because a clade is defined as a group of organisms all coming from a common ancestor. So while the disease is similar, somewhere in the very distant past, there had to be a common organism that somehow, over the evolutionary process, evolved into the different branches of the "tree of life."
More about snake fungal disease, North America, United Kingdom, Czech republic, wild snakes
 
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