Detection of Ophidiomyces ophidiicola and snake fungal disease in California


California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW), Wildlife Health Laboratory.

Principal Investigator

Raquel Elander – CDFW

Project Goal

In response to the emergence of Snake Fungal Disease (SFD) in California, we propose to conduct urgently needed surveys to determine the prevalence and geographic extent of clinical SFD and the causative fungus (Ophidiomyces ophidiicola), in multiple California snake species throughout the extent of geographic extent of their ranges within the state. As a location with an established artificial cover object array, Pepperwood offers a great opportunity for the detection of many snakes that would provide a baseline sample set for disease surveillance in Sonoma County.


To determine the prevalence and geographic extent of SFD and its causal pathogen by collecting > 400 investigations via skin swab samples from free-ranging snakes in California. The more samples collected can illustrate a more accurate representation of disease presence in the state. Additional objectives include outreach for awareness, training, implementation and standardization of biosecurity practices to help safeguard vulnerable snake populations from disease spread and transmission by human activities.


As an employee of the CDFW, under the Fish and Game Code (Section 1001), the Principal Investigator (PI) (Raquel Elander) is exempt from possessing a state-issued Scientific Collecting Permit for collecting biological samples from California wildlife and is authorized to conduct this work for wildlife conservation on land with expressed permission by the landowner or manager.

To meet this project’s objectives, biased detection for multiple snakes will be conducted on foot by checking established artificial cover object arrays, naturally occurring cover objects, and visual encounter surveys. When a snake is encountered, the PI will attempt to capture the animal by hand. Once in hand, processing will immediately occur. A visual wellness exam will be conducted to determine presence of clinical lesions associated with SFD infection on the snake’s skin. If no symptoms are found, two full- body swab samples will be collected by running the swab along the snake’s body multiple times. If symptoms are detected, up to four of the lesion sites will be documented and swabbed. In addition to swab samples, secondary data for body condition, morphometrics and demography will be collected using tools, i.e. Pesola spring scale, meter stick, probing rods. Once the process is completed the animal will be released at the site of capture. All data will be documented on data sheets and stored on CDFW-managed drives and premises.

All equipment will be disinfected before and after touching the snake using 70% ethanol or 10% bleach solution. Disposable gloves will be worn and changed between snake processing for multiple snakes in a day.

Project Duration

This project is ongoing until July 2023.