Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Effects of snake fungal disease on short‐term survival, behavior, and movement in free‐ranging snakes

November 3, 2020

Pathogenic fungi are increasingly associated with epidemics in wildlife populations. Snake fungal disease (SFD, also referred to as Ophidiomycosis) is an emerging threat to snakes, taxa that are elusive and difficult to sample. Thus, assessments of the effects of SFD on populations have rarely occurred. We used a field technique to enhance detection, Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) telemetry, and a multi‐state capture–mark–recapture model to assess SFD effects on short‐term (within‐season) survival, movement, and surface activity of two wild snake species, Regina septemvittata (Queensnake) and Nerodia sipedon (Common Watersnake). We were unable to detect an effect of disease state on short‐term survival for either species. However, we estimated Bayesian posterior probabilities of >0.99 that R. septemvittata with SFD spent more time surface‐active and were less likely to permanently emigrate from the study area. We also estimated probabilities of 0.98 and 0.87 that temporary immigration and temporary emigration rates, respectively, were lower in diseased R. septemvittata. We found evidence of elevated surface activity and lower temporary immigration rates in diseased N. sipedon, with estimated probabilities of 0.89, and found considerably less support for differences in permanent or temporary emigration rates. This study is the first to yield estimates for key demographic and behavioral parameters (survival, emigration, surface activity) of snakes in wild populations afflicted with SFD. Given the increase in surface activity of diseased snakes, future surveys of snake populations could benefit from exploring longer‐term demographic consequences of SFD and recognize that disease prevalence in surface‐active animals may exceed that of the population as a whole.

Publication Year 2020
Title Effects of snake fungal disease on short‐term survival, behavior, and movement in free‐ranging snakes
DOI 10.1002/eap.2251
Authors Jennifer M. McKenzie, Steven J. Price, Grant M. Connette, Simon J Bonner, Jeffrey M. Lorch
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Applications
Index ID 70218485
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center