- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The U.S. Geological Survey says a disease that causes high death rates in some kinds of snakes has been confirmed for the first time in Louisiana.

Louisiana is the 16th state where snake fungal disease has been found, said ecologist Brad Glorioso of the USGS National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette.

He said Louisiana’s first case is one of the few documented in this country in a juvenile snake. That’s worrying, because deaths of many juveniles could devastate snake populations, Glorioso said in a news release.

The broad-banded water snake was found in the Cypress Island Preserve at Lake Martin, near Lafayette.

Glorioso has begun swabbing for the fungus on every nonvenomous snake captured in a 7.4-acre area of Palmetto Island State Park in Abbeville, where the disease was diagnosed in a dead Western ribbon snake.

“Not every snake that tests positive for the fungus necessarily has SFD,” he wrote in an email. But the disease can be confirmed only by microscopic analysis of the skin, so only snakes found dead or near death would be sent in for that test, he said. Glorioso said he doesn’t want to take skin biopsies because he’s not a veterinarian.

Each snake will be microchipped and released. By repeatedly catching snakes, they hope to understand how widespread the fungus is and what percentage of affected snakes survive.

Before, it had been found in the Midwest, the Northeast, and on the Eastern Seaboard from Virginia to Florida and in Kentucky.

Though it hasn’t yet been found in Alabama or Mississippi, “There is no reason to think it would not eventually be found in those states, as well as other states in the eastern U.S. and possibly elsewhere,” Glorioso said in an email.

“The disease will likely be found in more places as more scientists begin looking for it,” he continued. “We are just at the beginning of really trying to understand this disease and its implications for wild snake populations.”

The fungus was identified as a new species in 2009 and as a new genus in spring 2013.

It was first named Chrysosporium ophiodiicola, meaning “Chrysosporium fungus that inhabits snakes.” Then scientists realized it wasn’t Chrysosporium, a group of fungi which generally feed on decomposing hair and feathers in soil but are known to infect the occasional reptile.

When it was identified as a new genus, it was renamed Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, or “snake fungus that inhabits snakes.”

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