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Snakes of North America are dying en masse from a mysterious fungus

In 2008, scientists in the United States discovered severaldead oriental rattlesnakes. Their faces were swollen and so disfigured that the experts initially thought they were being run over by a car. However, the study showed that their deaths were not at all related to the car. They were infected with the dangerous fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola. Previously, such a fungus was found only in captive snakes, but it has not been found in the wild. The fungus suppresses the snake's immune system and kills it, the researchers suggest. Subsequently, over ten years, scientists have identified O. ophiodiicola in 25 species of snakes in 19 US states, and it is also found in snakes in Canada. The disease, which is sometimes fatal, now has a common name - snake fungal disease.

In North America, snakes are threatened with extinction from a dangerous fungus

How the deadly fungus appeared and how it threatens snakes

The first sign of the disease was recorded in2006, when experts from the New Hampshire Department of Fisheries and Game Conservation noticed that some of the endangered wood rattlesnakes developed brown hard blisters on the neck and face. This was initially overlooked, but an outbreak of snake fungal disease later killed about 50 percent of the state's adult arboreal rattlesnake population.

Experts were immediately interested in the question - whenhas a fungus appeared ?. The study, the results of which were published in July this year, showed that it began to spread among snakes long before it was noticed by scientists. It was found in stuffed reptiles of 1945, caught in the United States. According to study leader Jeffrey Lorch, a microbiologist at the US Geological Survey, tracking medical history can be critical in figuring out how to deal with a disease.

Dangerous fungus found in 1945 stuffed snakes

How dangerous is the fungus and whether it threatens completethe disappearance of snakes? According to experts, out of 11,000 known reptile species, almost one in five is threatened with extinction due to anthropogenic hazards such as habitat destruction and climate change. If you add a fungal disease here, the situation is seriously aggravated. It may seem to some that the disappearance of poisonous snakes is not so bad. However, drugs are made from their poison. Recently, it has even been developed from "superglue" snake venom to seal wounds and stop bleeding.

But fortunately, wooden rattlesnakes are notbecame extinct completely. It is unclear how they managed to withstand the threat of complete extinction. Perhaps the surviving snakes were able to pass on some level of immunity to the fungus to their offspring. However, the version about immunity is only a guess. There is no evidence that snakes can be immune to the fungus at all.

How a dangerous fungus kills snakes

The team found that the fungal diseasethe snake is systemic. It first affects the skin and then, in some cases, causes damage to internal organs. But it is not defeat that leads to death. Researchers believe animals die from overactive immune responses.

Dangerous fungus affects the skin and internal organs of snakes

Scientists have confirmed that snakes spreadillness through contact with each other. In addition, the fungus can be passed from mother snakes to their offspring. What's more, it also grows in a variety of soil conditions and habitats.

“It has a wider habitat than eventhe fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (which has killed over six million bats), ”says Matthew Allender, a veterinarian and wildlife epidemiologist at the University of Illinois and Chicago.

Although Ophidiomyces has been found in dozensdifferent kinds of snakes, some of them it hits more than others. For example, scientists have recorded an 80 percent infection rate for common water snake populations, but their mortality rate is relatively low. On the other hand, rattlesnakes and other vipers are particularly susceptible to infection, which is often fatal.

Rattlesnakes are most susceptible to the fungus Ophidiomyces

Of greatest concern are rare snakes,such as the eastern indigo snake, which is endangered in Georgia and Florida. In some areas, more than half of the selected eastern indigo snakes are infected with snake fungus.

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Scientists are currently testing variouspreparations to fight the fungus. Additionally, some studies have shown that fungal infection alters snake behavior. Scientists suspect that infected individuals spend more time in the sun than uninfected individuals. They may be doing this to raise their body temperature in an attempt to fight off the fungus. Therefore, as an experiment, scientists began clearing some areas of the forest to give their snakes more room to stay in the sun. Let me remind you that fungi affect not only reptiles. We recently reported that the frogs of Brazil were also threatened for the same reason.