A deadly fungus can be found in 23 species in the United States of America and poses a global threat to the reptiles of the world, forming fast-spreading lesions across the body of snakes. This is according to a new study that was published on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, which warns of the fungus known as Ophidiomyces ophidiodiicola. “This really is the worst-case scenario,” Frank Burbink, the paper’s lead author and a curator at the American Museum of National History, said in a statement. “Our study suggests that first responders shouldn’t just be looking for certain types of snakes that have this disease, but at the whole community.”
The researchers have found that there are no species that are immune to this fungus and it is already being found in wild species such as garter snakes, milk snakes and vipers in the eastern United States, as well as three species in Europe. The lesions, which spread quickly across a snake’s body from the disease, may dissipate by molting. But molting snakes tend to bask in the sun for longer periods, an act that leaves them vulnerable to starvation and predators. Microbiologist Jeffrey Lorch, a co-author of the study at the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center, said such fungal pathogens lie behind some of history’s deadliest wildlife diseases. “These diseases have had such great impacts because they affect multiple species, and it now looks like the same is true of snake fungal disease,” he said in the statement.
The study’s authors said next steps should involve working with authorities to prevent the disease from spreading by further identifying its locations and developing treatments. Researchers utilized a model to analyze evolutionary, physical and ecological traits of snakes already infected with the disease and those that may be vulnerable. They found no discernible common trait, suggesting that 98 groups of snakes found in the eastern U.S. —and snakes around the world —could prove susceptible.