Georgia’s snake population could be threatened by a deadly fungal disease found in a wild snake in Bulloch County.
A mud snake tested positive last month for snake fungal disease, a skin dermatitis that causes scabs, crusty scales, nodules, abnormal molting and other changes to the snake’s skin. According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia-based nonprofit The Orianne Society, which focuses on conserving imperiled snakes,
discovered the emaciated snake at a blackwater swamp near Statesboro.
Snake fungal disease was first reported in a captive black rat snake from Sparta, Ga., in 2006. It has since turned up in the eastern and midwestern United States. At least eight species have been infected.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources says the overall impact of the disease on snake populations is not yet known, although it has decimated populations in other states. In an eastern massasauga rattlesnake population in Illinois, all of the infected snakes died. The disease led to a 50 percent decline of timber rattlesnakes in New Hampshire.Wildlife biologist Jessica McGuire, of the Georgia DNR Nongame Conservation Section, said it’s possible all of the state’s snakes are susceptible to the disease, although more research is needed. Because mud snakes are normally solitary animals, the incident could signal the disease spreads easily.
Some scientists have compared the snake disease to a fungal disease that has killed an estimated 5.7 million hibernating bats, including some in Georgia. The fungus related to white-nose syndrome, which was confirmed in Georgia in 2013, and the fungus infecting snakes both occur naturally in soil.