Volume 35, Issue 2, 2016

A White Silver Lining

WNS surveillance surveys reveal a rare find

Bat researchers
Bat Conservation International, TPWD Nongame and Rare Species
Program, and Texas A&M University biologists and volunteers during
bat surveys in the Texas Panhandle. Photo: Jonah Evans

Today, researchers from Texas are on a mission to tackle one of the greatest threats posed to bats in North America: White-nose Syndrome (WNS). Since its discovery in the early 2000s, the fungal disease has killed more than six million bats—and that’s only an estimate. Scientists postulate that the devastating disease could expand westward into the Texas panhandle, killing millions more. With help from BCI, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) hope to stop the disease before it’s too late.

For years, bat ecologists in Texas have been conducting annual White-nose Syndrome surveys to monitor the health of caves and their inhabitants. Most recently, TPWD researchers have installed new acoustic bat detectors around the cave in order to monitor when bats are active. The acoustic monitors will help identify if there is unusual winter activity—a strong sign that WNS has permeated the area. Bats become unusually active during the winter when they contract WNS, as the disease appears to awaken them during the winter and burn up their limited fat reserves. The ultimate result of this disease-induced activity is that an infected bat may die from starvation before spring.

Albino cave myotis Myotis velifer Credit katie Gillies 1
Albino cave myotis (Myotis veliferPhoto: Katie Gillies

For BCI’s Director of Imperilled Species, Katie Gillies, the realities of WNS and its potential impact are a tough pill to swallow. “Everyone always wants a silver lining for WNS and its really hard to find one,” she said.

However, “During our annual White-nose Syndrome surveillance surveys, we see this same albino bat, in the same area of the same cave in north Texas. Albinism is a recessive trait found in about 0.005% of wild animal populations, so encountering this cave myotis is truly a rare treat.”

A white albino bat sure isn’t silver, but its continuous discovery just might work…as a silver lining.



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