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Animal House: Fungal Plagues Affecting Wildlife -- And Your Pets

James Chiucci
Flickr via Creative Commons

A mysterious fungal disease is impacting wild and captive snakes in at least 15 states.

A team of veterinarians and biologists have teamed up to understand and hopefully  find a treatment for this potentially deadly disease.  The fungal disease, Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, was first found in snake populations in Illinois in 2011, and it impacts not only snakes in the wild, but it can infect pet snakes, as well.  This disease is a serious problem, said Dr. Matt Fraker of the Prairie Oak Veterinary Center in Normal, in that it's part of a disturbing trend of three fungal plagues that have devastate animal populations in recent times. One has impacted global frog populations.

"In fact, one of the organisms struck down was the golden toad," explained Fraker. " It's now extinct. Then more recently, a population of animals that really don't need anymore problems -- bats -- have been impacted.  This was called White Nose Syndrome and it was striking bats in their wintering roosts. This fungus was wiping out whole colonies. And now we have this new fungal infection impacting snakes. If you encounter a lumpy, bumpy snake in the wild, that would indicate that it's possibly this disease."

"The captive snake issue and how they contract the disease is still being figured out. Any snake owner that sees their snake developing lumps or lesions, make sure your vet is aware of this fungal disease.  You can also go to the University of Illinois Veterinary Medicine Program -- they have an excellent exotic animal medicine program with fabulous doctors, including Dr. Matt Allander, who is leading the research on this disease."

The rise of fungal diseases, Fraker said, can possibly be attributed to changes in our climate. "These fungal organisms thrive in warmer, more humid conditions.  If you look at the temperature and humidity in bat roosts twenty years ago, this fungal stuff wouldn't survive.  The average temperatures in those roosts have gone up.  That's how this stuff can survive and wreak havoc on a population.  Climate change must be addressed in this issue." 

Hear Matt Fraker talk about the terrible impact wind turbines have on bats.

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Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.