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Snake Fungal Disease Threatens California’s Wild Snakes

Snake fungal disease (SFD), a disease that can be fatal to snakes, is threatening California’s wild snake populations. First detected in California in 2019 on two individual snakes, the disease has now been confirmed in at least 10 counties across the state. The detections were found in common, threatened, and endangered species, including the giant gartersnake (Thamnophis gigas) and the San Francisco gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia)

SFD is caused by a fungus, Ophidiomyces ophidiicola. The fungus invades the snake’s skin and scales, leading to a variety of symptoms, including facial abnormalities, scabs, abnormal shedding, loss of appetite, weight loss, and death. The severity of the disease can vary depending on the snake species and the individual snake’s immune system.

SFD is spread through direct contact between snakes. It can also be spread indirectly through contact with contaminated surfaces, such as soil, rocks, or vegetation. Snakes can also become infected if they are handled by someone who has recently handled an infected snake.

There is no effective treatment for SFD in wild snake populations, but there are treatments for snakes in captivity that can help to slow the progression of the disease. These treatments typically involve using antifungal medications to kill the fungus. However, even with treatment, some snakes may still die from SFD.

SFD is a serious threat to California’s snake populations. By taking steps to prevent the spread of the disease, we can help to protect these important animals.


Photo: Snake Fungal Disease has been detected on the threatened giant gartersnake (Thamnophis gigas)

Stop the spread of snake fungal disease:
  • Do not release captive snakes into the wild.
  • Clean and disinfect any tools and equipment that has come into contact with snakes.
  • Avoid handling snakes in the wild, especially those that are shedding or appear to be sick.
  • If you find a snake you suspect has SFD, immediately report the observation to your local wildlife rehabilitation center, Save The Snakes, or to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

By following these tips, we can all help to protect California’s snakes from snake fungal disease.

Here are some other ways to help protect wild snake populations from snake fungal disease:
  • Support research into SFD and its treatment.
  • Educate the public about SFD and how to prevent its spread.
  • Advocate for policies that protect snakes and their habitats.

By working together, we can help to ensure the survival of California’s wild snakes.

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