Tuesday, August 26 2014, 11:11 AM EDT
Georgia Biologists Express Concern Over Snake Disease
Biologists in Georgia are expressing concern about a spreading disease affecting snakes in that state. 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 was reported in a captive black rat snake from Sparta, Ga., since 2006 the disease has turned up in growing numbers of wild snakes in the eastern and midwestern U.S. At least eight species, varying from milk snakes to eastern racers (pictured), have been infected. In New Hampshire, the disease was implicated in a 50-percent decline in an imperiled population of timber rattlesnakes.
Georgia DNR biologist John Jensen, said Snake Fungal Disease is, for now, a deeper mystery than white-nose syndrome that's killing bats.
"There’s a lot more we don’t know about it,” said Jensen. "The challenge in learning more is that snakes are more difficult to monitor than many other animals."
White-nose syndrome has killed an estimated 5.7 million hibernating bats and spread from the Northeast to as far west as Missouri.
Questions remain about how Snake Fungal Disease is transmitted, what factors spur infections and how can the disease be treated.
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.
While noting that hundreds of healthy snakes have been found in Georgia and the eastern U.S. this year, Dirk Stevenson of The Orianne Society called the emerging disease issue troubling.
“Scientists with The Orianne Society will closely examine all snakes they encounter – including the federally protected eastern indigo snake – at study sites in Georgia and other states for symptoms of the fungus,” said Stevenson.