Snake Fungal Disease Found in Ontario, Canada
Disease now confirmed in at least 16 states in the U.S.A. and one province in Canada
In mid-March 2015 an adult female eastern foxsnake (Pantherophis gloydi, formerly Elaphe gloydi) with signs of dermatitis was accidentally disturbed while hibernating at a location close to Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada. The snake was treated in captivity and samples were submitted to the CWHC because the observed lesions were consistent with Snake Fungal Disease. The presence of the fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola was confirmed by culturing the fungus as well as by Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). Snake Fungal Disease was confirmed with histological examination of a full depth skin biopsy. We believe this is the first documented case of Snake Fungal Disease in Canada. The disease has previously been confirmed in 16 U.S. States.
Snake Fungal Disease (SFD) is an emerging disease affecting a variety of snake species in eastern North America, including the northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon), eastern racer (Coluber constrictor), rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus species complex), timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus), pygmy rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius), and milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum). First noted in 2006, the disease varies in severity but has been associated with significant morbidity and mortality in some cases. This is cause for concern in Ontario, where ten of our seventeen snake species, including the eastern foxsnake, are already provincially listed as species at risk.
Clinical signs of SFD can be severe and can include skin ulcers, invasion of deep muscle tissue and bone and, in rare cases, has been noted to invade the lungs and liver. However, the most consistent signs of the disease are scabs or crusty scales, subcutaneous nodules, abnormal molting, white opaque cloudiness of the eyes that is not associated with molting, or localized thickening or crusting of the skin. In many cases affected snakes exhibit relatively mild signs similar to ‘hibernation sores’.
Snake Fungal Disease Update – July 2016
Since first confirmed in Ontario in March 2015, the CWHC has tested 46 more snakes for the fungus, Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola. PCR confirmed twelve (12) tested positive for the presence of the fungus. Snake Fungal Disease has been confirmed by histology in 3 of those snakes (all eastern foxsnakes).
Several agencies, researchers and organizations including the CWHC are working together to investigate the distribution and impact of this disease in Canada. We encourage conservation agencies, wildlife managers and members of the public to contact the CWHC if snakes with clinical signs consistent with SFD are encountered.
Submitted by Lenny Shirose – CWHC Ontario/Nunavut