Detection of Snake Fungal Disease Caused by Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola Among Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) in Pennsylvania

Januszkiewicz, Eric                                                                                                                                              


Northeast Wildlife DNA Laboratory                                                                                                                            East Stroudsburg University                                                                                                                                      East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, USA

LaDuke, Thomas C.                                                                                                                                              Department of Biology                                                                                                                                                East Stroudsburg University                                                                                                                                      East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, USA

Chinnici, Nicole                                                                                                                                                   Northeast Wildlife DNA Laboratory                                                                                                                  

East Stroudsburg University                                                                                                                              

East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, USA

Snake Fungal Disease (SFD) is a recently emerging disease caused by infection from Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola. Free-ranging snake populations are being affected by this fungal pathogen throughout many Eastern and Midwestern U.S. states. Characteristically, infected individuals display swelling, lesions, crusts, and nodules of the skin that are generally found on the head but can also be found throughout the body. The fungus is difficult to identify based solely on symptoms and was not definitively identified in the state of Pennsylvania prior to this analysis. One hundred and thirty-five total Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) from twelve different counties in the northeastern and north-central regions of Pennsylvania were captured and swabbed to test for the presence of SFD. Real-time PCR was used to detect the pathogen DNA. Of the 135 snakes, 24 (18%) tested positive with six individuals being infected on both the head and body, nine individuals infected on just the head, and nine individuals infected on just the body. There were no relationships found between infection rates and color phase, sex, length, or county captured. The cause of emergence and spread of this pathogen is largely unknown. Timber rattlesnakes have been listed as a candidate species in Pennsylvania in the past and are currently considered a species of special concern. The presence of SFD in these populations raises concerns. Long term monitoring studies may be helpful to examine the effects this fungal pathogen may have on individuals and populations.

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