A disease that some scientists have compared to the illness killing bats by the millions has been documented in a wild snake in Georgia.
An emaciated mud snake from Bulloch County tested positive last month for snake fungal disease, according to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study. The mud snake is the first free-ranging snake from Georgia that the Athens-based cooperative has confirmed with Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, the fungus associated with the disease.
Snake fungal disease is a severe dermatitis that causes scabs, crusty scales, nodules, abnormal molting and other changes to a snake’s skin. First reported in a captive black rat snake from Sparta, Georgia, in 2006, the disease has turned up in growing numbers of wild snakes in the eastern and midwestern United States. At least eight species, varying from milk snakes to eastern racers, have been infected.
The severity of infection varies and the overall impact on populations is not clear. Yet, among Illinois’ last population of eastern massasauga rattlesnakes, all of the snakes that showed signs of infection died, according to a University of Illinois professor studying Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola.
In New Hampshire, the disease was implicated in a 50-percent decline in an imperiled population of timber rattlesnakes.
Senior wildlife biologist John Jensen, a herpetologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, suggested that snake fungal disease is, for now, a deeper mystery than white-nose. “There’s a lot more we don’t know about it,” Jensen said.
The fungus is not transmitted to humans, according to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study. However, people could possibly carry it on clothes or equipment.