Scientists have recently discovered an affliction that could seriously threaten the global snake population, Gizmodo reports. A study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances describes the ailment — a potentially deadly fungal infection that originates with a bacteria known as ophidiomyces ophidiodiicola — and claims that snake species all over the world could be vulnerable to its harms.
When a snake is infected by the bacteria, there are effectively only two choices: death, or a dangerous recovery process. Deadly lesions will quickly cover the body of an infected snake, and the only way to fight off the infection is for the snake to molt, or shed its skin. But molting isn't exactly a simple process; most snakes spend one or two weeks shedding their skin, meaning expulsion of the infection by molting may not happen sufficiently quickly.
Molting can be accelerated with exposure to sunlight, Gizmodo's George Dvorsky notes, but the trade-off there is that lounging in the sun exposes snakes to attacks from hungry animals. Additionally, most snakes eat infrequently while they molt — if they eat at all.
"First responders shouldn't just be looking for certain types of snakes," said Frank Burbrink, the lead author of the study. "All snakes could become infected, or already are infected."