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Tuesday, February 7 • 2:00pm - 2:20pm
Technical Session. Snake Fungal Disease affects Survival and Behavior of Free-ranging Massasauga Rattlesnakes

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AUTHORS: Sasha Tetzlaff, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Michael Ravesi, Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center; Evin Carter, University of Tennessee at Knoxville; Brett DeGregorio, US Army ERDC-CERL; Matthew Allender, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Bruce Kingsbury, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne

ABSTRACT: Snake Fungal Disease (SFD) caused by Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola is an emerging fungal pathogen that has been detected in numerous snake species. However, the survival and behavior of free-ranging individuals with this disease has yet to be reported. Here, we radio-tracked 24 Massasauga Rattlesnakes (Sistrurus catenatus) with and without SFD in northern Michigan during 2013–15 to explore how this pathogen affects survival, movement, thermoregulation, microhabitat selection, and exposure. Five snakes were considered to have SFD, either from positive qPCR results for Ophidiomyces (n=4) or clinical signs consistent with disease yet tested negative (n=1). The annual survival rate of snakes with SFD (0.16) was less than one third of control snakes that did not have SFD (0.59). SFD snakes moved distances ≥20 m less frequently than controls and were thus fully exposed less often. Microhabitat selection appeared similar between groups, but SFD snakes were more often associated with habitats broadly characterized as early successional. Monthly body temperatures of SFD snakes differed from controls only at the end of the active season, which corroborates observations of diseased snakes basking on the surface when controls had already retreated belowground at overwintering sites. Our findings collectively suggest SFD affects individual behavior during peak activity periods and when snakes are preparing to overwinter. Massasauga Rattlesnakes with this disease ultimately have reduced survival rates compared to those which do not. This is the first study reporting the effects of SFD on free-ranging individuals, but how this translates to potentially altered population dynamics remains to be investigated.

Tuesday February 7, 2017 2:00pm - 2:20pm CST
Arbor I/II