Snake Fungal Disease

As if reptiles didn’t have a tough enough life, now this.

As yet the only known hosts of the fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola are, as the name suggest, (Ophidia  taxon order for serpents) snakes. Present in captive animals for many years it has been found in wild specimens of various species across the USA.

Grass snake affected by Snake Fungal Disease. Photo kindly supplied by Fred Holmes

The spread of a fungal or viral disease in any species is a concern and that some of the affected populations, across the pond, are listed as endangered anyway, certainly doesn’t help. Cases have emerged in Europe with UK grass snakes in 2015 and a closely related Dice snake from the Czech Republic in 2016.

Symptoms include lethargy in the animal and on inspection brownish lesions 1 to 2 mm across on the belly and around the neck, throat and head. Scales can become deformed, scabby or crusty looking. Swelling in the skin beneath the scales and irregular and more frequent sloughing. (shedding of the skin). This can lead to dehydration and anorexia.

Healthy Grass snake.

‘A small number of post-mortem examinations have confirmed SFD in grass snakes in GB where the condition is considered to be severe and likely to have contributed to their death. The extent to which the skin lesions cause generalised ill health in grass snakes requires further investigation’. – Garden Wildlife Health.

Distribution of the fungus is thought to be via the environment with spores surviving in the soil. Direct transmission from snake to snake may also occur but these hypotheses require further detailed testing. Scales already damaged from other causes such as injury from predators may increase the snakes chances of being infected by SFD.

Keep your eyes peeled for ill looking snakes and report your sightings to us here at Durham Wildlife Trust as well as to Garden Wildlife Health.