Fungus which affects water dragons and other reptiles called “a serious threat”

An outbreak of severe skin disease caused by a pathogenic fungus has been detected in wild eastern water dragons in Southeast Queensland with researchers saying it poses a serious threat to Australia’s reptilian fauna.

The pathogen has also been impacting on the commercial pet trade.

Danielle Cox, A PhD Candidate at the School of the Environment   in the University of Queensland where she has been working as part of a team researching the fungus, outlined the problem in   Wildlife Health Australia.

Cox says there is need for a greater sense of urgency around the spread of the fungal pathogen  Nannizziopsis barbatae as it has been documented  as the cause of fatalities in a wide range of reptiles including those in captivity.

N.barbatae causes ultimately fatal disease in infected animals, therefore constituting an immediate and substantial threat to Australian biodiversity,” she says.

“Since its emergence it has spread to a number of geographically and phylogenetically distinct species across Australia – having been detected in agamids, monitor lizards, skinks and freshwater turtles in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia and it represents a growing issue facing Australian wildlife.

“Many of the animals that are documented with this infection are pets and we do not yet know whether this novel infection has originated in the pet trade or not.

Not just water dragons – other Aussie reptiles at risk

“Whilst we are yet to find evidence, and given that many species of Nannizziopsis persist in the environment, we suspect that the substrates used in reptile enclosures may be a source of infection for captive reptiles. 

“At the moment treatment ranges from high strength fungicides, which can be liver toxic, and amputation of infected limbs. “

The world illegal trade in reptiles has had a recent focus in southern Queensland, and Cox says while the fungus has been confined to Australia, it is possible the pathogen could spread internationally.

“So far the disease is known to have impacted species in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia. It is unknown how far N.barbatae could spread, however given its ability to persist in a range of hosts, and the potential for its survival in environmental reservoirs there is definitely concerns that this fungal pathogen could spread beyond Australia. 

Cox has urged anyone who is aware of the disease in animals, including their pets, to contact researchers as soon as possible.

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