UT student tests snakes to study viruses

UT student tests snakes to study viruses

Posted: Friday, October 19, 2012 12:01 pm

WALLAND (AP) — A University of Tennessee student is catching and testing water snakes for viruses that have killed a large amount of frogs and salamanders around the world.
Stephen Nelson, who is a senior majoring in wildlife and fisheries management, has spent the last two years testing northern water snakes for ranavirus, which is actually a group of viruses. The Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/OMZux8) reports his project is the first to test all North American snakes for ranavirus.
The virus was linked in the 1980s to large-scale amphibian deaths, but recently has been found in box turtles, including those at the Oak Ridge Arboretum. Especially with the disease’s jump to turtles, which are reptiles, biologists are trying to find out how it spreads.
During a recent trip to Little River in Blount County, Nelson caught a northern water snake with the help a couple of local teenagers who told him they had just seen one disappear under a rock.
Nelson waded into the water, gently raised the rock and found a 24-inch specimen with alternating bands of reddish-brown and gray. Nelson says researchers are trying to figure out how the ranavirus can be present in ditches and other places that stay dry part of the year and should be virus-free.

Published in The Messenger 10.19.12

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