It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
NOT IF YOU’RE A SNAKE MATE.
Because they’re picking up the morning papers today (with their mouth probably, not sure how else they’d do it) and reading some very bad news indeed. A new study published in Scientific Advances is warning that a highly infectious disease, known to affect a handful of snake species in the US and Europe, could soon become a global pandemic. So this is like their bird flu, only for snakes.
The fungal infection is caused by a pathogen called Ophidiomyces ophidiodiicola, which causes legions on the unfortunate snake’s skin. If the snake is able to molt fast enough, it will get rid of the infection from its body, and it will often spend more time in the sun to try and speed the process up. However, this means that it is more vulnerable to predators - and even then, the extra molting is not always enough to prevent the situation becoming fatal.
A team of scientists from the American Museum of Natural History, the US Geological Survey, and the University of Maryland, College Park, describe how Snake Fungal Disease can infect a whole host of species across a range of genetic makeups, physical attributes or habitat - and every snake on the planet is potentially at risk. It has already caused population loss in eastern parts of the US and has now spread to Europe, where three different species have been affected.
Lead author Frank Burbrink, said in a statement:
“This really is the worst-case scenario. Our study suggests that first responders shouldn’t just be looking for certain types of snakes that have this disease, but at the whole community. All snakes could become infected, or already are infected.”
A model run by the research team suggests that 98 species of snake in the US are at risk, and the epidemic could reach global proportions.
But, hey, I hear you shout: “I don’t like snakes. They scare me. It would be a good thing if they died out.” Particularly as I would like to visit Australia and I don’t want to die (at least not from a snake).
Well, no, firstly snakes are really cool - just think objectively about how elegant and beautiful they are - but they also perform a vital ecological role.
Burbrink told Gizmodo: “As midlevel predators, snakes may be an integral part of food webs consuming a large number of rodents and other animals and they themselves being consumed by larger mammalian and avian predators. Losing them in any population will certainly be to the detriment of a healthy ecosystem for other organisms and humans.”
Plus, just think - no snakes means no videos like this:
And frankly that’s not a world I want to live in.