Ophidiomycosis in snakes is caused by the fungus Ophidiomyces ophidiicola. Clinical signs associated with the disease range from minor skin lesions to severe swelling of the face. In some cases, the fungus invades the snake's underlying muscle and bone and internal organs; disease severity appears to peak during brumation. We quantified the prevalence of O. ophidiicola and ophidiomycosis in free-ranging snakes to explore seasonal variation in detection of the pathogen and disease. We collected skin swabs (n=464 samples) from seven species of free-ranging snakes (n=336) from Rondeau Provincial Park (Ontario, Canada) and tested the swabs for O. ophidiicola using quantitative PCR. We also assessed individuals for lesions consistent with ophidiomycosis and monitored changes in gross lesions over time in recaptured individuals. Eastern foxsnakes (Pantherophis vulpinus) had the highest prevalence of O. ophidiicola (24/84) and of lesions consistent with ophidiomycosis (34/84). On other species (Nerodia sipedon, Storeria dekayi, Thamnophis sirtalis, and Thamnophis sauritus), we detected the pathogen on only 4/229 snakes and observed gross lesions consistent with ophidiomycosis on 24/229 snakes. Body length of eastern foxsnakes was associated with detection of O. ophidiicola, suggesting that eastern foxsnakes' large size increases the risk of pathogen exposure relative to the other, smaller, species at our study site. Ophidiomyces ophidiicola and lesions consistent with ophidiomycosis were detected most frequently in eastern foxsnakes soon after emergence from brumation and less frequently later in the active season (O. ophidiicola: April=29.8%, October=3.9%; lesions: April=36.1%, October=5.5%). This decrease corresponded with resolution of lesions in 6/13 resampled eastern foxsnakes. Considering the seasonal cycle of O. ophidiicola and ophidiomycosis when planning disease surveillance research may improve detection probabilities for ophidiomycosis in Nearctic snakes.
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Vol. 58 • No. 4