Address Serious Threats

Further Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Can we control White-nose Syndrome (WNS) in bats?

Right now, there is no known cure for WNS. Current research efforts are focused on developing strategies to prevent or reduce mortality of bats from WNS and limit the disease spread. Effectively managing WNS will be difficult, but we will continue working together to save our bats.

The fungus that causes WNS is difficult to eliminate from the environment, so we do not expect to find a single treatment for eradicating the fungus. However, a combination of management actions may protect bats from infection and help their populations stabilize and recover. There is still reason to be hopeful! Some WNS management approaches that are being investigated include:

  • Applying bacteria or fungi to inhibit fungal growth on bats or in hibernaculum environments;
  • Developing vaccines to help bats’ immune systems recognize and fight the pathogen;
  • Using anti-fungal chemicals to treat affected bats or reduce environmental contamination;
  • Modifying hibernation environments to reduce pathogen growth or spread.

 

How long can the fungus survive in a cave?

Spores of the fungus that causes WNS - Pseudogymnoascus destructans - persist for years. The microscopic spores could be transported easily on clothing or gear and can persist in cave and mine walls and sediments for years.

 

How can I help fight White-nose Syndrome?

  1. Stay out of sites where bats are hibernating and decontaminate caving gear and clothes after visiting any cave sites, even if you didn’t see any bats! People can move the fungus on their clothing and gear and spread the fungus.
  2. Never take caving gear or wear clothing used in a WNS area and use it in an area that does not currently have WNS!
  3. Donate to BCI’s WNS research fund.
  4. Contact your state or federal legislators and ask to support and increase funding for White-nose Syndrome .
  5. If you find a sick or injured bat or need a bat removed, contact your local wildlife agency. Do not touch a wild bat!
  6. Learn more about bats and their value and share what you know with others.

 

Who do I contact if I see bats with WNS in a new area?

Contact your local Fish and Wildlife agency. Do not handle live or dead bats!

 

Are there any materials about WNS I can download and print?

Decontamination

Decontaminating caving gear and clothing by proper cleaning is a critical strategy for reducing the spread of the fungus that causes White-nose Syndrome in bats, Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) and protecting hibernating bats from its devastating impact. Scientific studies have shown that people can spread this deadly fungus on contaminated equipment and clothing. Following proper decontamination protocols to carefully clean all caving gear and clothing after visiting sites where the fungus might occur is imperative for ensuring we are doing our part for bats.

The fungus that causes WNS can be widespread in sediments and on cave or mine walls, even if cave visitors don’t see dead or hibernating bats. All cave gear should be cleaned thoroughly following approved decontamination protocols immediately after exiting subterranean habitats to ensure that people aren’t unwittingly spreading this deadly pathogen. Bats can also spread the fungus but people are capable to traveling large distances over winter and can cause major expansions in the spread of the disease.

By decontaminating our clothing and equipment we can greatly minimize the introduction of foreign microbes into cave systems. Decontamination and proper field hygiene conform to standards of good caving practices and good environmental stewardship. Taking the time and making the effort to clean caving gear could make the difference in saving the lives of thousands of bats.

 

 

This video produced by the Monongahela National Forest in partnership with the Cave Research Foundation provides a great overview of the importance of bats, the threat of WNS, and the importance of decontaminating your cave gear.

 

Important resource



WNS in the West

White-nose Syndrome (WNS) was confirmed in a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) found in King County, Washington, in March 2016 – the first recorded occurrence of this devastating bat disease in western North America.

Hikers found a little brown bat on the ground while hiking 30 miles east of Seattle. They safely captured it and delivered it to a local rehabilitator. Sadly, the bat died a few days later. The rehabilitator sent the bat to be tested and our worst fears were confirmed: the bat was infected with the deadly fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) and had died from White-nose Syndrome.

 

This new fatality indicated that the fungus and the disease had made a 1,300-mile leap from its previous westernmost detection in Nebraska.

Next Steps: An On-the-Ground Response

Little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus)
Credit: Al Hicks

Effective surveillance for WNS is urgently needed in western regions where bat diversity is high, yet we know relatively little about winter ecology and susceptibility of western bat species to WNS. Winter behavior of western bat species differs from where WNS has previously occurred. Prior to WNS, it was common to find hibernating colonies of tens to hundreds of thousands of bats in eastern North America. In the West, such large colonies rarely exist. Western bats are dispersed across a vast landscape, hibernating in cliffs, rock crevices, talus slopes, caves and mines. This difference in biology requires new approaches to WNS surveillance and bat population monitoring.

BCI is working with state wildlife agencies and the national WNS Disease Surveillance Working Group on strategies to adapt response efforts to these new challenges. A critical knowledge gap is identifying where western bats (particularly Myotis species) spend the winter. Bat Conservation International’s experienced Subterranean Program team members are currently helping our government partners to conduct bat surveys in the region as a part of expanding the national surveillance effort for this deadly fungus. On-the-ground surveillance is critical to knowing how widespread the disease is in the west and in developing appropriate surveillance protocols in the West so we can protect bats that are vulnerable.



Species and Locations

Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) CREDIT: Michael Schirmacher

White-nose Syndrome is a disease that is killing hibernating bats across much of North America.

The impact of this disease is unprecedented. Since bats are the primary predators of night-flying insects, we can expect to see significant ecosystem changes in the coming years. The little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) was once the most common bat in North America; today, it is being considered for protection under the US Endangered Species Act. The northern long-eared bat (M. septentrionalis) has recently been listed as Threatened under the US Endangered Species Act, due to losses incurred from WNS.

More than half of the 47 species of bats that live in the U.S. hibernate in caves and mines to survive the winter. Four of these bats are federally endangered (Indiana, gray, Virginia and Ozark big-eared bats) and live within or near WNS-affected areas.

A total of seven species of bats have been diagnosed with the disease in North America. Seven additional species (†) have been found with the fungus, but have not yet developed the disease.

White-nose syndrome has been confirmed in bat hibernation sites in 30 states and 5 Canadian provinces: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Quebec

In addition, the fungus that causes White-nose Syndrome, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, has been found in three additional states: Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Map of Current WNS June 11 2014 Status view larger size

 


WNS Surveillance in Texas

Texas is a state that is known for its many cave and karst resources and large bat colonies. Bat Conservation International (BCI) has been working closely with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) since 2011 to monitor north Texas caves for the arrival of the fungus, P. destructans, and the disease it causes, White-nose Syndrome (WNS).

This ongoing research program surveys caves in the Texas Panhandle and its surroundings (including western Oklahoma) to carefully inspect bats for any field signs of the fungus or the disease. Biologists collect skin swab samples from individual bats and cave substrates and count the numbers of hibernating bats in each cave as part of the ongoing national WNS surveillance program and research on WNS and its spread and impact on hibernating bat species in North America. This work seeks to collect baseline survey data of hibernating bats and provide early detection of WNS at high priority locations in northern Texas.

 

During surveys conducted in January and February 2017, P. destructans was detected on three species of hibernating bats in six counties in Texas: Childress, Collingsworth, Cottle, Hardeman, King and Scurry Counties. The fungus was detected on three tri-colored bats, seven cave myotis and one Townsend’s big-eared bat. This is the first detection of the fungus on cave myotis and Townsend’s big-eared bats nationwide. The disease – bats sick from the fungus invading their skin tissues - has not yet been detected in these species.

White Nose Syndrome Survey CREDIT: Mylea Bayless

All data were collected in accordance to the guidelines outlined by the National Wildlife Health Center for Winter Hibernaculum Surveys and/or the sample protocol from the University of California Santa Cruz led study. White-nose Syndrome decontamination protocols were strictly followed between cave complexes according to the guidelines provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

Texas bat species at risk from WNS

Texas, with 32 bat species, has the greatest diversity of bat fauna in the country. Of these 32 bats, 14 species are known to occupy and use torpor in subterranean habitat (caves, mines, bunkers, culverts, etc.) in the winter months, making them potentially susceptible to WNS.





These species include:

† Indicates species listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act
* Indicates species confirmed for either WNS or P. destructans outside Texas
# Indicates species confirmed for P. destructans in Texas

 

What does this mean for our Mexican free-tailed bats?

A Mexican free-tailed bat captures an earworm moth
CREDIT: merlintuttle.org

What we have learned from studying WNS in bats over the past decade is that this disease most severely affects bat species that spend long periods hibernating to avoid cold winters. During hibernation, bats use torpor to save energy by lowering their body temperatures, heart rates, and respiratory rates. Immune function is also suppressed during torpor. When bats are torpid during hibernation, they are cold and inert and can’t fight off the fungus from invading their skin tissues. Some species may use torpor infrequently when there is a cold snap but can also be active and foraging during warm periods in winter. When bats are active, they can groom themselves and their immune systems work to fight infection. Mexican free-tailed bats, which roost in the millions at popular sites such as Bracken Cave, Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge, and Old Tunnel State Park, do not hibernate for long durations during the winter, and are therefore unlikely to be severely affected by White-nose Syndrome.



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