April 2015

Lumpy Snake

I catch and relocate Snakes (Qld State Government DMP permit) and today I came across a Common Tree Snake with a large number of bumps on its body and was wondering if any museum staff could offer an explanation.

Answer

The lumps on your snake are a common feature of south-east Queensland Common Tree Snakes (Dendrelaphis punctulata) and are usually caused by Spirometra sparganum.

Spirometra is a genus of common tapeworm parasites. The adult worms are known as "Zipper Worms" and, in Australia, live in the gut of a dog or cat host.

This tapeworm has a complex lifecycle. Eggs are produced by the adult worms and are passed in the host faeces. The eggs need to reach fresh water where they infect copepods. The larval worm can then infect a range of intermediate hosts, tadpoles and frogs being the most likely. The larval worm in an intermediate host is known as sparganum. Human infection is possible and is known as sparganosis. Any predator that feeds on infected frogs and/or tadpoles risks infection with the larvae that are carried within the amphibian meal.

Frog-eating snakes are commonly infected. In the infected snake, the worm usually lives in the body cavity, between muscles or in subcutaneous tissue.

For some reason, sparganum are very easy to see in Common Tree snakes and are the cause of the obvious soft lumps that you have noticed. Interestingly, Keelbacks can harbour massive numbers of sparganum but none will cause visible lumps.

The snakes generally seem to cope with the worm burden and are probably best released as they are found.

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