Fungus killing certain southern Ill. rattlesnakes
CHAMPAIGN, Ill.—A fungus rarely seen in the wild is killing certain southern Illinois rattlesnakes while cropping up in the northeastern U.S., wildlife specialists said.
Matthew Allender, a wildlife veterinarian and University of Illinois visiting instructor of comparative biosciences, said that in 2008 biologists reported to him that they'd found three eastern massasauga rattlesnakes with debilitating fungal infections in a southern Illinois park. The snakes, which are candidates for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, died within three weeks of their discovery, and a fourth snake with the fungus was discovered in the same park in 2010.
Allender later identified the pathogen as Chrysosporium, a fungus that plagues portions of the pet reptile industry but is not normally seen in the wild. He later heard from other biologists about similar infections in timber rattlesnakes in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
"Chrysosporium causes disease in bearded dragons and in other snakes, and it's a bad bug," Allender said. "We see it in captive animals worldwide, but we don't typically find it in free-ranging animals."
The fungus also is emerging as a dangerous infection in humans with weakened immune systems, he said, adding that he sees the fungal infection in endangered snakes as a "yellow flag" warranting more study.
"Wildlife diseases and human health are not that different," he said. "And often wildlife are our window into a weakened environment that leads to disease in both people and animals."