Several More States and Provinces Hit by Fatal Bat Disease

April 28, 2010

The devastating fungus that has already killed more than one million US and Canadian bats continues to spread geographically, and to potentially threaten additional bat species.

The bat losses can have major impacts on ecosystems, since the flying mammals routinely consume large quantities of insects and themselves provide food and nutrients for other plants and animals. There also are economic impacts as caves continue to be closed to recreational use, in an effort to combat the spread of the disease.

In addition to the nine states with confirmed bat deaths noted in the April 29, 2009, TipSheet, so-called white-nose syndrome (named for the white fungal patches on the nose, muzzle, and wings of some infected bats) has been confirmed in Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee, Ontario, and Quebec. In addition, US Forest Service ecologist Susan Loeb, 864-656-4865, is predicting that it will soon spread to GA, KY, NC, and SC. She is also concerned that, along with six hard-hit species such as the Indiana bat and little-brown bat, it may well affect others, such as Virginia big-eared bats, small-footed bats, northern long-eared bats, Eastern pipistrelles, Rafinesque's big-eared bats, gray bats, and southeastern bats. Several of the at-risk species are listed as threatened or endangered.

A concerted research effort on the causes and possible remedies continues, and the fungal species has been identified (Geomyces destructans), but much crucial information remains unknown (see the TipSheet noted above for many of these research organizations).

  • The confirmation of a case in Missouri adds to the urgency felt by many researchers, since this is the first known incidence west of the Mississippi River, according to journalist Rinker Buck's April 20, 2010, story in the Hartford (CT) Courant, "Deadly Bat Fungus Appears To Be Spreading." The case is 300 miles from any other known case, indicating that a notable geographic barrier has been crossed, and eliminates another population of uninfected bats that could have been used as a control for research.
  • The mysteries surrounding the disease, including how it is transmitted, have led to substantial economic impacts in many states as officials close caves to recreational use. That pattern continues in Missouri as officials there have announced the closure of many more government-controlled caves. However, in Missouri, as in some other states, many caves are in private hands, adding another layer of complexity to potential understanding and control of the disease. Kim McGuire covered both the cave closure and private cave issues in an April 20, 2010, St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, "Many Missouri Caves Will Close Over Bat Disease."