Testing the febrile response of snakes inoculated with Ophidiomyces ophidiicola, the causative agent of snake fungal disease.
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Snake Fungal Disease (SFD) negatively impacts wild snake populations in the eastern United States and Europe. Ophidiomyces ophidiicola causes SFD and manifests clinically by the formation of heterophilic granulomas around the mouth and eyes, weight loss, impaired vision, and sometimes death. Field observations have documented early seasonal basking behaviors in severely infected snakes, potentially suggesting induction of a behavioral febrile response to combat the mycosis. This study tested the hypothesis that snakes inoculated with Ophidiomyces ophidiicola would seek elevated basking temperatures to control body temperature and behaviorally induce a febrile response. Eastern ribbon snakes (Thamnophis saurita, n = 29) were experimentally or sham inoculated with O. ophidiicola. Seven days after inoculation, snakes were tested on a thermal gradient and the internal body temperature and substrate temperature of each snake was recorded over time. Quantitative PCR was used when snakes arrived, during pre-inoculation, and post-inoculation to test snakes for the presence of O. ophidiicola. Some snakes arrived with O. ophidiicola and were subsequently inoculated, allowing for an assessment of secondary exposure effects. Snake thermoregulatory behavior was compared between 1) O. ophidiicola inoculated vs. sham inoculated treatments, 2) infected vs. disease negative groups, and 3) disease naïve vs. pre-exposed immune response categories. Neither internal nor substrate temperatures differed among initially prescribed, and qPCR recovered disease states, although infected snakes tended to reach a preferred body temperature faster than disease negative snakes. Snakes experiencing their first exposure (disease naïve) sought higher substrate temperatures than snakes experiencing their second exposure (pre-exposed). Here, we recover no evidence for behaviorally induced fever in snakes with SFD but do elucidate a febrile immune response associated with secondary exposure.