ABSTRACT

Ophidiomycosis, or snake fungal disease, is an emerging wildlife disease caused by the Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola fungus. The fungus can result in high mortality rates among infected snakes and has been documented across much of the eastern US, including southern Georgia. However, little is known about ophidiomycosis in northern Georgia. We surveyed wild snake populations in five counties of northern Georgia between March 2019 and March 2020 and swabbed captured snakes (n=27) for the presence of O. ophiodiicola DNA. We followed similar sampling protocols with a group of captive snakes (n=6) at the Elachee Nature Center in Hall County, Georgia. Quantitative PCR confirmed the presence of O. ophiodiicola DNA in 33% (11/33) of snakes. Eight of the confirmed positive samples were collected from wild snakes (30%, 8/27) across our sample region, while three were from our captive group (50%, 3/6). Our results indicated that O. ophiodiicola is present in wild snake populations in northern Georgia, and the pathogen is present in seemingly healthy captive snakes. This knowledge is critical for conservation and management efforts, but more research is needed to fully understand ophidiomycosis and its effect on snake populations in the region.

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