The emerging “snake fungal disease” (SFD) which has been recorded among populations of Eastern and Midwestern US snake species, has been confirmed as Opidiomyces ophiodiicola. Lorch et. al. 2015 inoculated captive bred corn snakes Pantherophis guttalus with O. ophiodiicola and compared the symptoms they developed with those seen in wild populations, exhibiting SFD. A healthy captive bred control group of P. guttalus provided context for the comparisons. This may not seem like a great “breakthrough” in the typical sense but it will definitely streamline efforts to understand this serious threat and it should be regarded as a big step in the right direction.
Researchers have been on the tail of the the SFD pathogen for about a decade. It is now a question of finding out how O. ophiodiicola acts within populations, under different environmental conditions and where it came from; and how it may act in the future. If we compare this pathogen to the infamous Batrachochytrium dendrobatidus (Bd) it’s clear that climate and human influenced dispersal should be considered.
Thankfully for our froggy friends, the amphibians can tentatively breath a sigh of relief thanks to Bosch et. al 2015. For the first time Bd has been eradicated from a wild amphibian population (Mallorcan midwife toads Alytes muletensis) by environmental disinfection. This is a great achievement but whether it can be scaled up to treat other threatened populations, remains to be seen.
Let’s hope that with continued research into SFD and specifically O. ophiodiicola any chances of a similar pandemic like that caused by Bd across world wide amphibian populations can be reduced.
Lorch et al. 2015 is open access here
National Wildlife Health Survey of the US Geological Survey have published in-depth description SFD events with some diagnostic photographs here
More photography by Alan Wolf here