White-Nose Syndrome in bats has been devastating bat populations in 23 states and five Canadian provinces, confirmed so far. First documented in 2006 in Eastern New York, it has now been confirmed in an engangered species of bat in Arkansas as of Jan. 11, where five bats were found dead in a Marion County cave, victims of the disease.
The disease was documented in two northern long-eared bats found at the cave on a natural area managed by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. Two of the five bats collected were submitted to the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center where it was confirmed both bats had the fungus. Both bats had damage to their wing, ear and tail membranes consistent with white-nose syndrome.
Researchers returned to the cave a week after their initial survey and found 116 endangered Ozark big-eared bats, 15 northern long-eared bats and 30 tricolored bats in the cave with no visible signs of WNS. WNS is known to impact both northern long-eared bats and tricolored bats, but has not yet been known to harm Ozark big-eared bats. During the winter of 2012-13 an estimated 220 Ozark big-eared bats hibernated in Arkansas caves.
On Oct. 2, 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that the northern long-eared bats receive federal protection as an endangered species. It is considered endangered by the AGFC.
White-nose syndrome is thought to be transmitted primarily from bat to bat or substrate to bat, but fungal spores may be inadvertently carried to caves by humans on clothing, boots and equipment. The syndrome is not known to pose a threat to humans, pets or livestock. Researchers have suspected human activity has helped spread the fungus from cave to cave, and in many states caves harboring bats have been closed to human populations.
In the rest of the country and parts of Canada, WNS has claimed 5.7 million bats since it was first discovered in a cave in New York. This means bat population declines ranging from 80 to 97 percent in some places. It has a 90 – 100 percent mortality rate in hibernating bats. The fungus blocks bats breathing passages and wakes them up from hibernation at a time when food is scarce, and many bats die from starvation.
Last summer a low level of the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome was detected in two north Arkansas caves. The fungus was discovered in a cave at Devil’s Den State Park in Washington County and a private cave located in southern Baxter County.
The fungus was found in swab samples taken from hibernating bats in February 2012 and January 2013. Tests detected DNA that indicates the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, which is deadly for bats, particularly in the northeastern U.S. and Canada. The testing was part of a national study funded by the National Science Foundation and led by researchers at University of California Santa Cruz and Northern Arizona University to track the spread of the disease.
Blake Sasse, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Nongame Mammal Program Leader said the agency had been expecting the news. “After finding out that the fungus was present Arkansas last year, it wasn’t a surprise to confirm that white-nose syndrome was killing bats this winter,” Sasse said.
The public can help several of the species that are known to be impacted by white-nose syndrome by building bat houses on their property. They can be obtained commercially from many sources or they can be built by using plans available on the AGFC’s website at www.agfc.com.
Additional information on white-nose syndrome and bats is available at www.whitenosesyndrome.org