Study finds fungal disease of snakes in 19 states, Puerto Rico — ScienceDaily

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In a collaborative effort between scientists and personnel on military bases in 31 states in the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico, researchers surveyed for an infection caused by an emerging fungal pathogen that afflicts snakes. The effort found infected snakes on military bases in 19 states and Puerto Rico, demonstrating that the fungus is more widely distributed than was previously known. The team reports the findings in the journal PLOS ONE.

“Ophidiomycosis — formerly known as ‘snake fungal disease’ — is an emerging infectious disease caused by the fungus Ophidiomyces ophidiicola,” said Dr. Matt Allender, a professor in the veterinary diagnostic laboratory at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who led the new study. “It has been documented in over 15 genera of wild and captive snakes. Infection with the pathogen causes a wide range of clinical signs in snakes, from difficulty shedding skin, to crusts and ulcers on the head and body, and even death in some cases.”

Allender is the director of the Wildlife Epidemiology Lab at the U. of I. and an expert on ophidiomycosis.

“We looked for this pathogen in samples from 657 snakes and found that 17% were infected. Our findings include the first reports of this disease in Oklahoma, Idaho and Puerto Rico,” he said.

The team tested swab samples taken from snakes representing 58 species. The researchers used a qPCR assay they developed, which amplifies the DNA in small samples to detect and measure the extent of infection. Biologists who collected the samples also inspected the snakes for scabs or other signs of disease. The scientists detected the pathogen in samples from 113 snakes representing 25 species including copperheads, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, Puerto Rican boas, sidewinders and whip snakes.

“Adults had greater odds of being diagnosed with ophidiomycosis than younger snakes,” the researchers

These Snakes Take Their Prey Down in the Most Savage Way

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Photo credit: Winai Suthanthangjai
Photo credit: Winai Suthanthangjai

From Popular Mechanics

  • Researchers have published a new paper describing the downright vicious way kukri snakes take down some of their prey—in this case, Asian black-spotted toads.

  • The kukri, who uses specialized teeth to create a gash in the body of the toad, destroys its prey by pulling its viscera out and consuming it creating a truly gruesome way to go.

In a straight up savage move, small-banded kukri snakes (Oligodon fasciolatus) native to Thailand have been spotted literally tearing into Asian black-spotted toads and eating their viscera while the toads are still alive.

This “unknown feeding mode” has both fascinated and horrified researchers who have witnessed the phenomenon first-hand and published their findings in the journal Herpetozoa this September. According to the paper, the researchers analyzed three separate cases in which O. fasciolatus was seen using specialized “enlarged posterior maxillary teeth to cut open the abdomen of a live poisonous toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) and eat its organs.”

Photo credit: Winai Suthanthangjai
Photo credit: Winai Suthanthangjai

This feeding method is incredibly peculiar because, as Gizmodo points out, snakes tend to swallow their food whole when feeding. Plus, the kukri, which grows to be just under 3-feet long, typically eats the eggs of birds and other reptiles, but have been known to eat larvae, insects, and rodents, too.

One hypothesis floating around that supports this strange and brutal feeding method is that it helps the kukri avoid ingesting toxins the toads produce when they’re in danger. In one instance, researchers observed the toad toxin in action:

“The toad was observed spraying poison like a fine mist, some of which hit the head of the snake. In addition, some fluid from the back of the toad dripped down and covered the snake’s head and eyes. The toad

Asian Snakes Spotted Disemboweling Toads Instead Of Swallowing Them Whole

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KEY POINTS

  • 3 Asian snakes were documented eviscerating preys instead of swallowing them whole
  • It is the first time such feeding behavior was observed in the species
  • It’s possible that what they were eating has something to do with the behavior

For the first time, researchers observed snakes on three different occasions eviscerating toads instead of swallowing them whole. What could be behind these particularly gruesome attacks?

Snake is popularly known to eat its prey by swallowing it whole but for the first time, a team of researchers documented snakes that disemboweled prey instead of swallowing them whole.

In the study published in the journal Herpetozoa, the researchers describe three separate incidents during their observations in Thailand wherein they documented small-banded Kukri Snakes (Oligodon fasciolatus) using their enlarged posterior maxillary teeth to cut open their live preys.

“The snakes inserted their heads into the abdomen of the toads, pulled out some of the organs and swallowed them,” the researchers wrote, noting that the struggle between predator and prey lasted for hours.

Why did these snakes consume the toads this way? It could have something to do with what the snakes were eating. In all three cases, the snakes were eating Asian Black-spotted toads (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), a large toad species known to secrete a potent toxin from their neck and back. As the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology notes, it’s possible that this is why the species does not have many predators.

As such, it could be possible that the snakes were avoiding being poisoned by the toads’ toxins.

But, the researchers also note of a fourth observation wherein the snake just swallowed a toad of the same species whole, the only difference is that the toad was a smaller semi-adult.

“These are the first known cases of serpents inserting

Snakes disembowel and feed on the organs of living toads in a first for science

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Snakes disembowel and feed on the organs of living toads in a first for science
A Small-banded kukri snake with its head inserted through the right side of the abdomen of an Asian black-spotted toad, in order to extract and eat the organs. Tissue of a collapsed lung (above, left), and possibly fat tissue, covered by clear liquid foaming as it mixes with air bubbles from the lung at expiration. The upper part of the front leg is covered by foaming blood, likewise, mixed with air bubbles from the collapsed lung. Credit: Winai Suthanthangjai

While the majority of snakes would normally swallow their prey whole, the Small-banded Kukri Snake seems to have evolved a particularly macabre feeding habit that has never before been witnessed in a serpent.


During a survey on the relatively small-bodied Asian kukri snakes in Thailand, a Danish-Thai research team, led by Henrik Bringsøe, documented three occasions where a snake uses its enlarged posterior maxillary teeth to cut open the abdomen of a large poisonous toad, then inserts its entire head and pull out the organs one by one, while the prey is still alive. The discovery is published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Herpetozoa.

In those gory attacks, the toads struggled vigorously to escape and avoid being eviscerated alive, but, on all occasions, this was in vain. The assaults could last for up to a few hours, depending on the organs the snake would pull out first.

The toads observed belong to the quite common species called Asian Black-spotted Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), which is known to secret a potent toxin from their prominent parotid glands, located on the neck and all over the back. Could it be that the snakes have adopted this sophisticated and gruesome approach to avoid being poisoned?

Snakes disembowel and feed on the organs of living toads in a first for science
A Small-banded kukri snake having managed to slit through the left side of the abdomen of the toad underneath