The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has confirmed the state’s first case of Snake Fungal Disease (SFD) in a California kingsnake (Lampropeltis californiae) from Plymouth, Amador County. The snake, which was emaciated and suffering from severe skin disease, was found by a member of the public on the side of the road and submitted for rehabilitation to Tri County Wildlife Care. Given its poor prognosis and the potential presence of SFD, the snake was humanely euthanized by CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory and sent to the University of Illinois, where post-mortem examination and testing confirmed it was infected with the Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola fungus that causes SFD. In addition, this week the fungus was detected on the skin and in tissues from a Florida watersnake (Nerodia fasciata pictiventris) found deceased and collected by CDFW from Folsom, Sacramento County, suggesting the original case was not isolated.
SFD is a newly emerging disease in snakes. Cases may be mild to life-threating. Visible signs may include scabs, skin ulcers or nodules, crusted scales, discolored scales, cloudy eyes and a swollen or disfigured face. The infection may cause the upper layer of infected skin to shed repeatedly. Affected snakes are often emaciated, possibly due to decreased ability to capture prey, and often rest in open, unprotected areas where they are exposed to adverse weather and predators.
The Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola fungus lives in soil and can be transmitted to snakes through skin abrasions or through direct contact with other infected snakes. SFD can also be passed from mother to offspring at birth in some species. Snake species that share dens may be at higher risk than solitary species.
First characterized in 2008, SFD has been detected in more than 30 snake species in the U.S. and Europe. The fungus is present in at least 23 states, primarily in eastern states and the Midwest, although in 2018 it was also detected in Idaho and in southern Ontario, Canada. This detection in California is the furthest west the disease has been confirmed.
Although SFD has caused significant mortalities in species of conservation concern, such as the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) and federally threatened Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus), other species may only exhibit mild infections.
It is unknown if SFD will impact snake populations in California. CDFW will be working with wildlife rehabilitators, academic and agency partners, and others who work with snakes to increase surveillance for SFD in California and implement appropriate precautions to minimize risk for human-caused spread among snakes. There is no evidence that SFD is transmittable from snakes to humans.
Although members of the public should avoid directly handling or disturbing snakes, they can assist CDFW’s efforts by reporting sightings of snakes with skin sores or unusual behavior.
As a reminder, releasing any animals that have been in captivity, even temporarily, requires prior written approval by CDFW.
More information on SFD is available at: U.S. Geological Survey webpage on SFD or the University of Illinois Wildlife Epidemiology Laboratory webpage on SFD.