Rare Pathogen In Snakes Could Lead To Ecosystem Crises In America

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In the past twenty years, there have been recordings of never-before-encountered phenomena concerning wildlife. A particular area of concern is animal health. New diseases have been springing in numerous species of animals and scientists have been worried things could get worse. For instance, species of frogs, bats, and salamanders have shown bizarre health anomalies found out by recent studies. Even some of the most versatile of living creatures have been showing vulnerabilities not known in the past. 

One of these versatile creatures is the rattlesnake. The new ailment confirmed by researchers is called "snake fungal disease" and has the potential of eradicating several species if scientists don’t act against the epidemic at once.

The fungal sickness is caused by a rare but powerful pathogen called Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola. Its most notable effects on the affected snake’s body are skin lesions and thick blisters. These deformations on the skin can get so severe that the snake’s face may become reconfigured in a way that would prevent it from using its mouth properly, and at times, prevent it from eating at all.

The rattlesnake is very prone to this physiological anomaly but this is not to say that other species of snakes are immune to it. It’s just that, recent studies have shown that the mortality rate is particularly high when rattlesnake populations have been surveyed. The eastern massasauga rattlesnake, for example, has been noted to be particularly vulnerable to the disease.

Researchers have expanded their operations to a wider area in the United States and today have conducted studies in fifteen different states within the country. According to local biologist and conservationist Jonathan Kolby, “Many of the world’s 3,000 snake species are just as vulnerable.” So far, the most vulnerable ones have been listed at thirty different snake species.

“It just seems one after the other that these emerging fungal diseases are appearing in different types of animals, yet they’re spread enigmatically,” said Kolby. The scientist also works as a contracted explorer for National Geographic. He adds, “We don’t know where exactly they came from or why they suddenly appear to be more virulent.”

These recent reports are unfortunate not only for traditional animal conservation efforts, but also for domestic concerns that greatly affect human communities. Areas with a high or dense population of rodents stand to benefit from a proportionate population of snakes in order to control the spread of the former into epidemic or pandemic levels. Crops, water systems, and livestock health are all at risk if that happens, and this ultimately endangers human lives. Moreover, Kolby says that, “Because rodents are known to spread ticks and other parasites, this is worrisome for human health.”

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Beverly Malko

Staff Writer

Beverly has been making her living as a writer since college. She studied business at Skidmore College and lives in Boston.