Snakes are in trouble. A strange disease is affecting snakes from all over the world, and scientists aren’t quite sure how to fix it. If they don’t figure it out soon, we could be seeing a global snake pandemic that threatens entire ecosystems.
The illness is called Snake Fungal Disease (SFD), and it’s caused by a fungus called Ophidiomyces ophidiodiicola which causes painful legions on the skin of the snakes it infects. Some snakes can molt to remove the fungus, others aren’t so lucky.
SFD has been known to affect a few snake species in North America, but according to a recent paper in the journal Science Advances, it may be spreading. The report states that the fungus may be able to infect nearly any snake on the planet, which means there’s a good chance snake communities across the world could be in jeopardy.
"This really is the worst-case scenario," said lead study author Frank Burbrink 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. All snakes could become infected, or already are infected."
SFD is made all the more difficult to stop because scientists still don’t know much about it. The fungus that causes it, O. ophidiodiicola, might be spread from snake to snake or the snakes could simply be picking it up from the environment. Scientists also don’t know just how many snake species can be infected, although they have confirmed the fungus targets at least 23 species in the U.S. and three in Europe.
If the researchers are right, and SFD is capable of affecting any snake, then entire ecosystems could be at risk. If snake populations start to suffer, than many other species that interact with them could stuffer as well. SFD could cause major problems, which means there’s actually quite a lot at snake.
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