Ophidiomycosis prevalence in Georgia’s Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi) populations

Houston C. Chandler, Matthew C. Allender, Benjamin S. Stegenga, Ellen Haynes, Emilie Ospina, Dirk J. Stevenson

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Wildlife diseases have posed a significant challenge to the conservation of many species in recent years. Diseases have been implicated in population declines over large geographic areas, with severe disease outbreaks leading to either local or complete extinctions of wild populations. Ophidiomycosis, commonly known as snake fungal disease, is caused by the fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, which has been documented in snake populations across the eastern and southern United States. We collected swab samples from the federally threatened Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi) in populations across the species’ Georgia range. We used quantitative PCR to determine the presence of O. ophiodiicola DNA and also recorded skin abnormalities characteristic of ophidiomycosis. From 1 September 2016 to 4 August 2018, Eastern Indigo Snakes tested positive for O. ophiodiicola DNA on 47 of 107 occasions (43.9%) and tested negative for fungal DNA but had skin lesions consistent with ophidiomycosis on 42 occasions (39.3%). Symptomatic and qPCR positive individuals were more likely to be encountered during January and February when compared to November and December. We found no effect of sex (p = 0.517), age-class (p = 0.106), or body size (snout-vent length: p = 0.083; mass: p = 0.206; body condition: p = 0.063) on ophidiomycosis status. Over the two-year study, we encountered individuals in which infection was clearly negatively impacting overall health and also documented individuals in which infection apparently cleared from one year to the next. These results demonstrate that O. ophiodiicola and lesions characteristic of ophidiomycosis are widespread in Georgia’s Eastern Indigo Snake populations. However, there are many unanswered questions regarding this disease, including the effects of disease on populations and individuals, the presence of infection vectors, and the change in prevalence over time. More research is needed to address ophidiomycosis and understand its impacts on ongoing conservation efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0218351
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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