A deadly fungus could wipe out these rattlesnakes for goodS

This is terrifying and sad all at the same time. Scientists have known about Chrysosporium for years, but they've never known it to do this. The ghastly fungal infection — notorious for popping up in captive animals around the world — has made the leap to a population of endangered rattlesnakes in Illinois, posing a serious threat to their survival.

The first cases of infection were noted in 2008, when researchers — who were monitoring a population of massasauga rattlesnakes (pictured up top) near Carlyle, Illinois — encountered a trio of the reptiles with heads covered in gruesome ulcers, and swelling that extended throughout their fangs, skin and skeletal muscles. A fourth snake was later recovered, as well, but all of them perished just weeks after their discovery.

Three or four snakes may not sound like a big deal to most people, but these rattlers are being affected by just one in a handful of recent infections that researchers say are becoming more and more problematic.

A deadly fungus could wipe out these rattlesnakes for goodS

"Fungal pathogens have been increasingly associated with free-ranging epidemics in wildlife, including the well-known effects of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis on frog populations globally and white-nose syndrome in bats," explains researcher Matthew Allender in a recent issue of Emerging Infections Diseases. "Both of these diseases cause widespread and ongoing deaths in these populations that seriously threaten biodiversity across the United States." [These images, from the publication, show the extent of the tissue damage experienced by the snakes]

In just five years, the white-nose syndrome that Allender is referring to has expanded from a small population of bats in New York to sixteen states and four Canadian provinces, wiping out between six and seven million bats in the process. If a similar spread were witnessed in these Illinois rattlers — which are already candidates for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act — it could lead to their extinction.

[Emerging Infectious Disease via Scientific American]
Top photo via USGS
Infection photos via CDC