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11/17/2015

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Kevin McCurley

SFD is a big deal in the Northeast and beyond, it literally is killing snakes right under our noses. I have been watching it decimate populations and have studied it intently with James Condon since 2006. Likely O. ophiodiicola has always been in the environment but more recently the delicate balance between Fungus and snakes has changed. From 1995 - 2006 we witnessed eleven warmer consecutive winters in the North and the result appears to be sick and dying snakes. (My theory) As the ground temperatures are slightly warmer they allow the fungus a longer window of activity. When snakes prepare to hibernate they become infected by fungal spores that begin to attack and spread on the snake. They fungus spreads while the snake's immune system slows and ceases to function. This "window" is now likely larger and there is more time for the fungus to establish itself on the animal. At some point let's say below 52F the fungus becomes dormant and the snake is literally a refrigerated piece of meat. As spring approaches and temperatures rise the fungus and snake become active. It's now a race against time, the snake needs to shed before the infection spreads to deeper tissue. If we see wet or cooler spring days the shed cycle is delayed but the fungus continues its attack. Many snakes will shed and are unable to rid itself of the fungus which continues to grow rapidly at warmer temperatures. Its these snakes with the continued infection that suffer and often die. If the snake is able to shed soon enough it may rid itself of the fungus and enjoy the warmer times like other healthy snakes. This delicate balance between infection and the race to shed has changed recently, now more than ever it seems snakes are losing this race and vanishing. This is the basic idea and I have endless observations regarding this disease since I first watch it and decided that something was wrong in 2005.

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