University of South Florida St. Petersburg



USF graduate student Shiv 'Snakeman' Shukla travels  to field sites to test snakes for Ophidiomyces, a fungus that can cause death in snakes.

‘Snakeman’ studies venomous snakes to learn more about fungal disease found in Florida

By Sarah Sell, University Communications and Marketing

When you walk into the USF St. Petersburg herpetology lab, a bold print sign reads, “Danger, venomous reptiles.” The residents inside include a venomous cottonmouth (water moccasin), two diamondback rattlesnakes, and several non-venomous water snakes. The reptiles are part of a student research project involving a fungal disease found in snakes.

Shiv Shukla, a graduate student in conservation biology, is studying the emerging pathogen Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, which causes the snake fungal disease. The skin condition has been found in Florida and can cause abnormal molting and cloudiness of the eyes and lead to higher death rates in certain species of snakes.

Shukla, who often responds to the nickname “Snakeman” around campus because of his unique field of study, said he chose snake fungal disease as his master’s thesis because reptiles are understudied compared to other animals.

In order to handle venomous snakes, Shukla had to log more than 1000 hours of documented experience working with and handling them, a requirement in Florida.

The video above takes you inside the lab at USF, where you can see and hear how Shukla tests the snakes for fungal disease and what he plans to do with the findings from his research.

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