Microbiologists are closer to understanding a strange ailment that causes snakes to act drunk and even tie themselves in knots.
Experts have identified an ailment they call “mad snake disease,” a disorder which causes snakes like boa constrictors and pythons to regurgitate food and “stargaze,” a term for staring off aimlessly for long periods of time, MedicalDaily.com reports.
“Some of the symptoms are pretty bizarre,” Michael Buchmeier, professor of infectious diseases at the University of California, Irvine, told reporters. The snakes “tie themselves in a knot and they can’t get out of it.”
Experts claim a new set of viruses — or arenaviruses — are to blame for the disease, according to the New York Daily News.
Until now, arenaviruses have never been seen in reptiles. The usually effect rodents and other mammals, including humans, Buchmeier said.
“The fact that we have apparently identified a whole new lineage of arenaviruses that may predate the New and Old World is very exciting,” Buchmeier said according to SBS.com.au.
The investigation was inspired by an outbreak of IBD among snakes at the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco. After looking at DNA samples from infected boas and pythons, researchers identified signs of an unusual virus normally found in rodents.
Joe DeRisi, a senior author of the study said that while IBD can devastate collections, zoos and aquariums that it infiltrates, there is no evidence the disease can spread to humans, according to the New York Daily News. Still, researchers want to figure out how the arenavirus gets transmitted from snake to snake.