Ophidiomycosis, an emerging fungal disease of snakes: Targeted surveillance on military lands and detection in the western US and Puerto Rico

Matthew C. Allender, Michael J. Ravesi, Ellen Haynes, Emilie Ospina, Christopher Petersen, Christopher A. Phillips, Robert Lovich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wildlife disease surveillance and pathogen detection are fundamental for conservation, population sustainability, and public health. Detection of pathogens in snakes is often overlooked despite their essential roles as both predators and prey within their communities. Ophidiomycosis (formerly referred to as Snake Fungal Disease, SFD), an emergent disease on the North American landscape caused by the fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, poses a threat to snake population health and stability. We tested 657 individual snakes representing 58 species in 31 states from 56 military bases in the continental US and Puerto Rico for O. ophiodiicola. Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola DNA was detected in samples from 113 snakes for a prevalence of 17.2% (95% CI: 14.4-20.3%), representing 25 species from 19 states/territories, including the first reports of the pathogen in snakes in Idaho, Oklahoma, and Puerto Rico. Most animals were ophidiomycosis negative (n = 462), with Ophidiomyces detected by qPCR (n = 64), possible ophidiomycosis (n = 82), and apparent ophidiomycosis (n = 49) occurring less frequently. Adults had 2.38 times greater odds than juveniles of being diagnosed with ophidiomycosis. Snakes from Georgia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia all had greater odds of ophidiomycosis diagnosis, while snakes from Idaho were less likely to be diagnosed with ophidiomycosis. The results of this survey indicate that this pathogen is endemic in the eastern US and identified new sites that could represent emergence or improved detection of endemic sites. The direct mortality of snakes with ophidiomycosis is unknown from this study, but the presence of numerous individuals with clinical disease warrants further investigation and possible conservation action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0240415
Pages (from-to)e0240415
JournalPloS one
Issue number10 October
StatePublished - Oct 8 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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