Skip to main content

GV Now

GVSU snake disease research featured on National Geographic

  • Eastern massasauga rattlesnake

Posted on June 12, 2017

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake, the only venomous species of snake native to Michigan, is currently on the U.S. Endangered Species List due to the ongoing threat of snake fungal disease. 

A team of faculty and students at Grand Valley are hoping to change that through their research, which was recently featured on National Geographic.

The National Geographic video spotlights Jennifer Moore, assistant professor of natural resource management, and her team conducting research at the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute in Hastings.

The team is now in its seventh season collecting demographic data on a population of eastern massasaugas in southwest Michigan in order to create a long-term data set to examine the repercussions of the disease. 

“Michigan is the stronghold for this species, so the more we can understand about massasaugas and their management in this state, the higher the likelihood that this species will not go extinct,” Moore said.

Snake fungal disease is typically marked by scabs or crusty scales, abnormal molting, white opaque cloudiness of the eyes, skin ulcers and swelling of the face. The disease was first detected in Michigan massasaugas in 2013.

Aside from studying population demography and habitat management, Moore’s team is also aiming to better understand the pathogen Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, which causes the disease.

Moore said that snake fungal disease is not the sole reason why the eastern massasauga is on the endangered species list.

“Many Michiganders aren’t aware that they exist, but their numbers are decreasing due to many factors, like habitat loss, roads and direct persecution,” she explained. “Eastern massasaugas have been deliberately killed for many years. It is important for the public to know that if these snakes are simply left alone, they will not do any harm.”

Moore’s team currently includes Arin Thacker, '17, Caleb Krueger and Kristin Schepke, both undergraduate biology majors, and Nathan Kudla, a graduate student majoring in biology.