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2011 edition. These accounts have been selected to provide the best available overall portrait of an evolving situation. Please note that some information may be dated and that media accounts rarely provide full, or always accurate, technical information.
Montana caves may not be permanently closed after source of bat-killing disease confirmed
By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian | Posted: Monday, November 7, 2011
America's caves may not need permanent closure to protect their bat populations, now that researchers have a better understanding of a bat-killing disease.
An article in the scientific journal Nature confirmed that the fungus Geomyces destructans causes White Nose Syndrome in hibernating bats. While that was the prime suspect for an epidemic that's killed an estimated 1 million bats in 16 states and four Canadian provinces, getting a solid answer frees up resources for more study.
"Now we don't have to look at other variables, like some other virus, or health problems, or environmental contaminants factoring into why bats are getting the disease," said Ann Froschauer, White Nose Syndrome coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "There is more interest now in potential effects and economic impacts on insect populations and the forest and agriculture industry. Those things are starting to happen."
Bats earn attention because they eat whopping amounts of insects. A 2010 study concluded that the million bats already killed by White Nose Syndrome are no longer consuming between 660 and 1,320 metric tons of bugs a year. If America loses its bat population, the cost to the agriculture industry in additional pesticides was estimated to be $22.9 billion.
The disease set off alarm bells for environmentalists and cave explorers. The Center for Biological Diversity called for a nationwide closure of caves to protect bats. Cavers thought that was overkill, especially as they were the only people likely to pay attention to the condition of bats in the wild.
Alpine Karst Foundation president and Montana caver Mike McEachern helped lead a campaign to challenge the closure calls. Instead, he and others favored a strong policy of decontaminating caving gear and only using local equipment to prevent cross-country spread of the disease. The new research appears to support those tactics, he said.
"The study showed it can be spread from bat to bat," McEachern said. "But it also showed that when you take bats that are not infected, and put them in cages an inch apart from infected bats, they didn't succeed in transmitting the disease. So airborne dispersal doesn't appear to be a factor."
That lowers the likelihood that people exploring caves can carry the fungus to bats without touching them - something cavers avoid doing anyway. ...
"If you don't have a policy that people support, you've defeated what you're trying to do," McEachern said. "Now we have a policy that cavers support. I'm pleased how it all came out."
Scientists struggle to fight disease that could wipe out hibernating bats
CNN, October 31, 2011
A deadly disease is ravaging bat populations in the Eastern and Midwestern United States and several Canadian provinces and if scientists don't find a way to stop it some species could face extinction, experts said. The disease has been spreading through bat colonies since 2006, after it was first discovered in a cave in Albany, New York. Now scientists and conservationists are trying to prevent it from spreading west and crossing the Mississippi River, as they search for a way to eradicate it altogether. And they may be closing in on how to do that.
Scientists now have proof that the disease, called White-Nose Syndrome, is caused by a fungus called Geomyces destructans or the "destroying fungus." Infected bats display a white coating, like talc, on their faces, around their noses or muzzles, and on their wings. The disease mainly strikes during hibernation, often waking the bats in the middle of winter. When they leave their roost to search for food, they can't find it and die, scientists have said.
It's estimated White-Nose Syndrome has already killed more than a million bats and may be pushing some bat species toward extinction. But scientists actually have no specific documentation on the correct number killed and think the number is probably much higher. The fungus has rapidly moved into 19 states and several Canadian provinces since it was first detected.
Bats are an integral part of many ecosystems, eating up to a third of their body weight in insects each night. They help control insect populations in many areas and it is estimated bats save farmers billions of dollars a year in pesticide and insect control expenses.
David Blehert, the head of diagnostic microbiology at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, said White-Nose Syndrome is extremely serious. "In terms of what we've seen in the northeastern U.S., the level of mortality that we've observed is perhaps unprecedented among mammals, certainly unprecedented among any of the 1,100 species of bats that are known to exist on the planet," Blehert said.
More than 40 of those species call North America home. But not all of them hibernate, many are migratory.
"There's about 25 species of bats in North America that obligately hibernate to survive the winter," Blehert explained to CNN Radio. "We have thus far documented the disease in six of those species, but there are many more species of obligately hibernating bats as you move westward across the country. So worst case scenario is that all hibernating bat species could be affected by this disease."
Wildlife researchers and government scientists, like Blehert, have teamed up with conservationists and cavers. It's a natural partnership because cavers actually go into bat habitats and can see the signs of the disease firsthand. Members of the National Speleological Society, or cave explorers, first discovered the disease. In fact, finding out more about the disease and preventing it from spreading is so important to the group that Peter Youngbaer was named the White-Nose Syndrome liaison. "We're directly involved (in helping track WNS) because we own and manage a number of caves as a society," Youngbaer said. "Two that we own in New York state are two of the first four sites where White-Nose appeared." Youngbaer added: "We had folks come back from a trip to one, which is a cliff entrance with a stream that flows out and people going down to the cave saw dead bats floating in the water. We have another cave that is a gated entrance where it requires you to repel or climb down a ladder some 58 feet to the floor of the entrance room and that entrance room floor was covered with carcasses, about 600 when people went in one day."
That was more than five years ago. WNS has now spread from four caves in New York to western Tennessee and western Kentucky.
Kevin Glen, a member of the Atlanta Chapter of the National Speleological Society which is also known as Dogwood City Grotto said WNS has had an impact on caving. "The state of Tennessee has actually closed down all the caves on state property. So a lot of really fine caves, including caves that have bats and many that don't even have bats in them at all, have been completely closed down," Glen said. "They just don't want to take a chance on spreading the disease around."
Fungus causes deadly bat disease: last doubts removed
by David Tenebaum
University of Wisconsin-Madison News, Oct. 26, 2011
Scientists have proven that the fungus Geomyces destructans causes white-nose syndrome, a fast-spreading and highly lethal disease of bats.
Research published today (Wednesday, Oct. 26) in the journal Nature provides the first direct evidence that this fungus is responsible for a disease that is decimating bats in North America.
Research at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and other institutions, showed that 100 percent of healthy little brown bats exposed to G. destructans developed white-nose
syndrome while hibernating in captivity.
The study fulfilled established criteria for proving that a microbe causes an infectious disease: A pure culture of a suspected pathogen is able to infect a host plant or animal, which then develops the clinical signs of the disease, and then the pathogen is re-isolated from the experimentally infected host species.
White-nose syndrome is a skin infection that often begins around the muzzle, but the exact mechanism of mortality is unknown.
“By identifying the causative agent of white-nose syndrome, this study provides information that is critical for developing management strategies to preserve vulnerable bat populations and the ecosystem services that they provide in the U.S. and Canada,” says study author David Blehert, a microbiologist at the Wildlife Health Center, and a honorary fellow at the School of Veterinary Medicine at UW–Madison.
This study could help bat conservation by supporting refinements to disease management strategies, said Jeffrey Lorch, a graduate student in the UW–Madison Molecular and Environmental Toxicology Center, another contributor to the study.
Although the study demonstrated that G. destructans can spread by contact between bats, transmission through the air was not seen. Still, it's likely that the fungus can spread by several mechanisms, Blehert added.
“Virtually all pathogens, especially spore-producing fungi, are spread by multiple routes,” he says. “This is why in an effort to further control the spread of white-nose syndrome, resource-management agencies have implemented universal precautions, including limiting human access to sensitive environments occupied by bats, decontaminating equipment and clothing moved between these environments, and restricting the movement of equipment between sites.”
White-nose syndrome continues to threaten Missouri bats
Missourian, Thursday, October 13, 2011
BY Hannah Wiese
COLUMBIA — The cool breezes of fall accompany the changing color of the leaves — a sign that winter is on its way. The fall migration has begun, and soon, all over Missouri, bats will be settling in for their annual winter hibernation.
The schedule for each species varies, but October to April is the prime time for the bats to hibernate. As they retreat into Missouri's caves for a long winter's nap, they face a threat more dangerous than any predator.
A silent killer that is spreading westward has already claimed more than 1 million bats in 17 states. White-nose syndrome is knocking at Missouri's border, and scientists fear it could decimate the bat population.
Missouri is home to 15 different species of bats, two of which, the Indiana and the gray bat, are endangered. Bats are the primary predators of night-flying insects. By helping to control the insect population, bats contribute $961 million to Missouri agriculture.
In mid-April of 2010, one little brown bat with suspicious wing spots was found in northeastern Missouri, in Pike County. It tested positive for the fungus geomyces destructans, which is believed to cause white-nose syndrome.
In the year and half since the fungus was discovered on bats in Missouri, no incidents of the disease — where the fungus actually makes its way into the bat’s tissue — have been reported.
Researchers, however, don't believe the threat of white-nose syndrome to Missouri bats has diminished. Since it was first found in New York in February of 2006, the disease has jumped to16 other states and three Canadian provinces. Additionally, the fungus has been documented in Oklahoma as well as Missouri.
"Once it hits here, I see it decimating the bats of Missouri," Kirsten Alvey, president of Columbia caving group Chouteau Grotto said. "I see the bats I love being gone."
Is White Nose Bat Syndrome coming?
The rapidly-spreading wildlife health crisis could make its way into Oregon at some point
Ron Halvorson, Central Oregonian, July 07, 2011
[T]here’s a firestorm of concern as more than a million bats have succumbed to this mysterious illness, causing the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to consider “WNS the worst wildlife health crisis in memory.”
This is a disease that may soon show up in Oregon, according to Forest Service bat specialist Pat Ormsbee, a member of the Western Bat Working Group.
“It’s spread rapidly,” she said. “It’s now in 17 states and four (Canadian) provinces.”
According to Ormsbee, the fungus was detected in Oklahoma and Missouri last year, so “it’s moving very quickly.”
The effects are devastating.
“They see 80 to 100 percent die off in these winter colonies in the Northeast,” Ormsbee said. “And currently in New York, the little brown bat, which is one of the most common species nationwide, it’s hard to find that in places in New York. It’s gone. It’s considered extinct in big portions of New York, and probably will quickly go that way in other states.”
Local biologists are concerned. With 14 species of bats known from Central Oregon, nine are similar to those species affected in the east, and would likely be susceptible to WNS.
“The Myotis lucifugus, the little brown bat, that’s the one that’s being hit the hardest on the East Coast,” said Prineville BLM Natural Resource Specialist Cassandra Hummel, “and that’s one of our most common bats here in Central Oregon.”
Protecting against the inevitable
“We really can’t do much about the bats,” Ormsbee acknowledged. “It’s hard to manage bats. It’s hard enough to manage people, but we’re asking people to decontaminate in the Northwest. We don’t know how White-nose is going to present out here, but we sure have to assume it could be at least as bad as what it’s done in the Northeast.”
As a result, she said, an interagency White-nose team has been formed in the Pacific Northwest, including representation from Oregon State University, Washington State University, the BLM and Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“It’s very critical that we all get on the same page with decontamination,” she said, “because there is the slightest chance that it could already be here and it just hasn’t showed up yet.”
According to Hummel, the BLM now requires all staff entering caves to follow decontamination protocol. She said this entails wearing clean clothes, and prohibiting clothes — and gear — that have been in a cave on the east coast. Once out of the cave, the used clothes are put into a sealed plastic bag, taken home, and decontaminated. Hard surfaces — such as helmets — are wiped down, and shoes are scrubbed.
“The thought process is that if there are spores in the caves and they’re attached to your clothes, then you’re killing them,” Hummel said.
Julie York is a Forest Service biologist stationed in Sisters. She said WNS will affect visitors to popular caves near Bend beginning this season.
“This year we’ll be doing some changes at Lava River Cave,” she said. “The ‘show’ caves are where we’re wanting to focus right now, because even though these aren’t people that might have been in a lot of different caves, they come from all over the country, and they may have come from Europe as well.”
York said they plan to set up a booth outside the cave where visitors will register, mainly so staff can determine where they’ve been and to assess the hazard. If warranted, they’ll ask visitors to change their clothes and to leave gear outside. In any case, according to the Forest Service, every visitor will learn the importance and methods of properly cleaning clothing and gear prior to entering the cave.
It won’t end there. She said the Forest Service will look at other caves and possibly group them by zones. They’ll then ask people to decontaminate at the zone level, allowing people to cave in a larger area without having to clean for every cave.
Critical to any prevention efforts is cooperation with the users — in this case, the spelunkers.
“We feel the caving community, they are a critical partner,” said Ormsbee. “And however we proceed with White-nose, in many cases they have been the better stewards for the caves than we have, the land management agency, because they have a longer history. They know where the places are, they’re passionate and caring about the cave resources, and very knowledgeable. So we have the most respect for them and the desire to work with them.”
“The grottos (caving clubs) are very involved in this and we want to keep them involved because they’re the main players. They’re the ones that know of caves beyond our means.” Read more...
WILDLIFE: Cave closures at issue in FWS plan to battle deadly bat disease
Pamela King, E&E reporter (06/24/2011)
A subpanel of the House Natural Resources Committee debated the effectiveness of cave closures as a way to curb the spread of a deadly disease that has devastated bat populations in the United States and Canada.
A little-understood fungus, Geomyces destructans, is causing the disease, which is capable of killing 80 to 100 percent of bats in a
given cave. The disease has implications for agriculture, which gets a $22.9 billion annual benefit from bats controlling insects, according to a report in the journal Science (E&E Daily <http://www.eenews.net/EEDaily/2011/06/20/archive/21>, June 20).
At issue in today's hearing was a Fish and Wildlife Service plan <http://www.eenews.net/assets/2011/05/17/document_gw_02.pdf> for dealing with white nose syndrome.
Cave closures were a commonly used option. To limit the potential for human transmission, the National Parks Service has closed off its wild caves and mines. Several states -- including Indiana, Kentucky and Wisconsin -- have taken similar action.
The closures have irked caving groups, such as the National Speleological Society. The society's Peter Youngbaer told the
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs that limiting access to caves has done little to mitigate the effects of a
disease that has spread primarily from bat to bat.
Two years ago, he said, cave owners were willing to close their properties and let science catch up with the disease, but now, their
patience has reached its limits. Youngbaer explained that shuttered caves are not physically walled off, meaning people who may not have heard about the closures -- such as church groups or college outing clubs -- continue to enter the spaces.
"While perhaps administratively attractive to issue a paper order, unless followed up with resources for enforcement, they are practically unworkable," he said.
Another concern, he said, is that bats roost in places other than caves and mines. They are also known to inhabit buildings, culverts and trees -- all of which would be susceptible to the disease under a plan that proposes cave closures as the sole solution.
Others told lawmakers that closures are a viable, if incomplete, fix.
"While I agree that bats are likely the most common distributor of the fungus, I believe cave closures are both necessary and justified because evidence does suggest human-facilitated movements are possible," said Justin Boyles, a researcher at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Still, the effectiveness of the closures has yet to be determined.
"Were [the closures] effective in gaining recognition [of the disease]? Yes," said Jon Gassett, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. "Were they effective in controlling the spread of the disease? We're not sure yet."
Other disease management options include the removal of infected bats, especially in caves containing federally listed animals, but that
strategy comes with its own set of controversies, Gassett said, describing the reaction he once received after making that decision.
"There were folks from the caving communities and from the caving biologist side of things who were very upset about the fact that we
actually physically altered the caves," he said, "but it wasn't worth the risk of allowing the 3,500 federally listed bats that were in that
cave the opportunity to roost in an area where they might become infected."
Eastern Bat Disease Brings New Regulations to the West
Several short-term permits for cave access in Colorado could signal the future of spelunking in the West
By Matthew H. Davis, New West Travel & Outdoors, June 28, 2011
Last month the U.S. Forest Service granted short-term access to 17 caves in Colorado’s White River National Forest. The move granted access to the caves for the National Speleological Society’s (NSS) annual convention. Caves in the area—near Glenwood Springs, 150 miles west of Denver—have been closed since last July to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome, a disease that has decimated bat populations in the eastern United States.
The disease causes a fungus to grow on the wings, nose and ears of infected bats and disrupts normal hibernation. Infected bats arouse too frequently during the winter, which leads to starvation. Since being discovered in 2006 in New York, scientists have observed the disease in 17 states and four Canadian provinces and estimate it has killed more than a million bats.
But what the short-term permits and blanket cave closures signal are the levels of precaution the poorly understood disease has raised, leaving conservationists and the caving community with different viewpoints on what should be done.
One of the leading groups sounding the alarm to close caves in the Western United States is the Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity. The conservation group pushed for added safeguards for the NSS’s permits and also blanket closures for the entire West.
“I think if they were going to allow cave access at all, because there’s a standing closure order, (the Forest Service) has done a reasonable job protecting bats and reducing the risk of the disease being transported,” said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity.
The NSS and the Forest Service agreed on several stipulations for cave access—including strict decontamination guidelines, a ban on using gear from afflicted areas and allowing access only to select caves with limited or no bat populations.
The NSS was more than happy to oblige, said Dave Lester, chairman for the convention, but pointed out that caving was only a small part of the group’s plan for the annual event. It will also be a place to discuss caving exploration and studies from around the world, among other topics, he said.
White-nose syndrome research is still in the early stages and the question of how the disease is spread remains unanswered. Bat-to-bat transmission still appears to be the most likely cause. The disease has been observed in caves in New England with limited human access.
Still, humans could have the potential to transmit the disease, Matteson said. She cited several long-distance jumps the disease has made that don’t reflect bats’ normal migration patterns. “I think the most protective thing would be for folks to stay out of caves,” Matteson said.
As for the impact cave closure has on groups like the NSS, Lester said it has been devastating and has halted many of the group’s underground studies. In many ways, the NSS and the Center for Biological Diversity share a common goal regarding white-nose syndrome, Lester said, but their approaches differ.
“The NSS believes the best way to approach this is to do the science and understand what’s going on,” he said and pointed out that the work the NSS has done with local agencies was wiped out by the federally mandated closure. “The caving community was unhappy—not that it came down from one of the local agencies that we’ve been working with—but that it was a national mandate,” Lester said. “That was politics, and we’re trying to deal with science.”
Representatives from the White River National Forest agree, but as Scott Fitzwilliams, the White River National Forest Supervisor, said, the closures are necessary. “I completely understand where the caving community is coming from. They have been more than cooperative, engaged and understanding throughout the entire process, but with the little information we had regarding the disease, we had to take a dramatic step,” Fitzwilliams said. “Hopefully, as we learn more about the disease, we can get back to a more local approach.”
At this point, the Forest Service throughout the region is moving forward as if the closure will stick, Fitzwilliams said, and pointed out that, without a solid understanding of the disease, the future of caving on public land in the West is an unknown.
In recent years, the NSS has been one of the most active groups in the country to push for white-nose syndrome research—through members’ work and research sponsorship—and has also encouraged congressional action, Lester said.
On the other hand, the Center for Biological Diversity has also made efforts to provide protections for bats. The group is using petitions to pressure Congress to fund a $10.8 million white-nose syndrome study and to pass the Wildlife Disease Emergency Act. The Save Our Bats campaign also seeks to pressure federal and state land managers to close access to all caves and abandoned mines in the Western United States.
At the end of May, the Center also threatened to sue federal land management agencies if steps weren’t taken to bring Eastern cave regulations to Western states. The 30-day window for the agencies to act ended on June 25.
The Bureau of Land Management will also release an order about what it plans to do in the coming days and the Forest Service in Montana will announce its plans as well.
The Center’s pressure on federal agencies may be working. Last Friday, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the disease and federal land managers voiced their concerns with white-nose syndrome.
“We understand the impacts closures are having, and will continue to have, on the recreating public,” Joe Peña, the Forest Service associate deputy chief, said at the hearing. “We will continue evaluating these decisions as new information and science becomes available, with the intent of balancing greater access to caves while striving to maintain healthy bat populations.” “By acting now we hope to substantially delay the westward spread enough for the science to inform us on more effective ways to manage and contain the fungus,” Peña said.
At the heart of the debate, of course, are the bats—neither group wants to deny that. A study published earlier this year in the journal “Science” estimated that the value of insect-eating bats to agriculture in the United States was $3.7 billion to $53 billion per year.
But now, with the blanket closures on Forest Service lands in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and possibly Montana, and the pending closures on western BLM lands, Lester said cavers are going to have to wait it out.
“Nature will bring it here, if it is to be,” he said.
What is Killing the Bats?
Can scientists stop white-nose syndrome, a new disease that is killing bats in catastrophic numbers?
By Michelle Nijhuis, Smithsonian magazine, August 2011
In the worst animal epidemic in years, white-nose syndrome threatens to wipe out some bat species.
Inside the gaping mouth of Mammoth Cave, hibernating bats sleep in permanent twilight, each huddled in its own limestone crevice. Every fall, these big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) squeeze their furry bodies into nooks in the cave walls, where they enjoy protection from the bitter wind and the waterfall that sprays across the entrance. But there’s little a snoozing bat can do about a persistent scientist.
“Just...let...go...with...your...feet,” coaxes Brooke Slack, a biologist at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, as she stands on tiptoes and reaches with gloved hands to pry a bat from the wall.
The bat, visible by the light of her headlamp, lets out a stream of tiny, infuriated shrieks, baring its sharp white teeth in protest. Slack gently loosens the bat’s claws from the rock and slips the four-inch-long animal into a brown paper bag. On this gray December afternoon, Slack and her colleague, a Northern Kentucky University microbiologist named Hazel Barton, are pressing this unlucky bat into service for its species.
Mammoth Cave, the longest known cave in the world, stretches at least 390 miles under the forests of southern Kentucky, and its twisting tunnels have fascinated explorers, scientists and tourists for well over a century. Slack and Barton have come for a different reason: the cave is a front line in the most precipitous decline of North American wildlife in living memory.
“Look at you, with your dirty, dusty little face,” Barton coos, shining her helmet lamp on one screaming bat.
They both know that somewhere in this cave, even on these bats, may lie spores of the fungus Geomyces destructans, which is devastating hibernating bat populations in the Northeastern United States. The fungus appears to be the cause of a disease called white-nose syndrome, which has killed more than a million bats in the past four years. It even threatens some of the continent’s most abundant bat species with extinction.
Decisions on cave closures over bat disease stall
By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian missoulian.com | Posted: June 4, 2011
The fate of cave access in the northern Rocky Mountains must wait a few more weeks, while efforts to stop a disease killing cave bats appears stalled.
"There's no magic bullets there," said Peter Youngbaer, vice president of the Northeast Cave Conservancy who attended a national symposium in Arkansas on White Nose Syndrome, which kills hibernating bats. "The researchers there were a little depressed. There's no immediate cure in sight. It's doing its natural thing, and nobody seems to be able to do anything about it."
In Missoula, Forest Service Region 1 officials have gathered almost 90 comments on a proposed emergency closure of caves to protect bats. Region 1 spokesman Brandan Schulze said on Friday it would be at least late June before a decision can be made.
"One of the things that came through really clear, whether they were interested in going into caves or not, a lot of people really care about the bats," Schulze said. "Where you see the difference is what people see as the best way to manage that."
Bats spread the fungus amongst themselves, and can contract the disease by entering an infected cave where another colony has died out. What's not clear is whether humans can carry the fungus from cave to cave in a way that will transfer to bats. A proposed national management plan calls for public closure of bat caves and strict decontamination procedures on the gear and clothing of anyone entering a cave.
The Center for Biological Diversity has criticized that plan as inadequate, and announced plans to sue the federal government unless it closes all caves on public lands by June 25. The center has also pushed for congressional action to give bats protection under the Endangered Species Act and increase funding for White Nose Syndrome research.
"White-nose syndrome is a wildlife crisis of unprecedented proportions," conservation advocate Mollie Matteson said in an email statement. "Left unchecked, the loss of bats is likely to have cascading effects on both the human and natural worlds for generations to come."
The disease has been confirmed in 17 states and four Canadian provinces. Its farthest western observation has been in Oklahoma, although that report remains unconfirmed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since it was listed in 2010.
While the Center for Biological Diversity has claimed that White Nose Syndrome appeared in the United States "possibly on the boots or gear of a cave visitor who inadvertently brought the fungus from Europe," U.S. cavers counter the disease appears to be spreading on known bat migratory paths and blaming humans for the transmission is unjustified.
Public land caves in the East, Southeast and Midwest have been closed by government order in the past two years. Caves in the Northern Rockies and Pacific Coast remain open, although federal land managers are considering closures there, too.
That has Montana cavers concerned, because the state has many caves of international significance. In addition to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness has caves that rank among the deepest in the continental United States.
But Montana also has a relatively small hibernating bat population. That's prompted local cavers to object to a blanket closure, especially considering private cavers are often the only people who know the locations and conditions of remote caves.
At Region 1, Schulze acknowledged the Forest Service has limited information about how many caves it has in the public lands under its management.
"We recognize there are areas we need to have more data," Schulze said. "It would be really difficult. We know the areas where the potential exists for caves, but it would take a significant amount of resources to know where all the bats were."
Youngbaer said that pointed to the need to keep private cavers in the picture. At the Arkansas conference, he said a Forest Service official from the Oregon/Washington region reported of 2,900 caves surveyed, only 38 had bat species and most of those colonies were tiny.
"We're your foot soldiers," Youngbaer said. "Send us out to get the baseline data you need."
With caution, Coon Cave reopens
By Liz Zemba, TRIBUNE-REVIEW, Friday, June 3, 2011
A Westmoreland County cave that was off limits to spelunkers for two years has reopened, but those who enter it are asked to decontaminate their clothing and gear to prevent the spread of a deadly illness that has killed at least a million bats in the Northeast since 2007.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources on Thursday announced that Coon Cave, southeast of Blairsville, is open. It is one of three caves within Forbes State Forest that were closed for the past two seasons after the fast-spreading white-nose syndrome, or WNS, was suspected of killing hibernating bats.
The others, Barton Cave in Fayette and Lemon Hole in Westmoreland, remain closed. Barton, which is near Laurel Caverns, is expected to reopen this season after an investigation into a collapsed chamber is completed. But officials said Lemon Hole will stay off limits to the public because it was not monitored for the syndrome this year. [Read more]
Groups threaten to sue government over bat disease
By Laura Zuckerman, SALMON, Idaho | Thu May 26, 2011 9:36am EDT
(Reuters) - Conservation and organic farming groups alarmed by the spread of a disease decimating bats on Wednesday threatened to sue the U.S. government within 30 days unless it immediately closes caves and abandoned mines on public lands.
White-nose syndrome, named for the telltale fungus that appears on the muzzles of bats, has killed more than a million bats in the eastern United States since its discovery in upstate New York in 2006, according to government research.
The fungus has been detected in 19 states across the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. Scientists say it is only a matter of time before it spreads westward to infect bats that hibernate in caves and abandoned mines.
"We're facing a number of bat species probably going extinct within a few decades if things don't change," said Mollie Matteson, advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, the lead group behind the threatened lawsuit.
The fungus is mostly transmitted from bat to bat. But government biologists say it also can be transferred by caving enthusiasts and others whose underground explorations may bring them into contact with infected bats or with the spores left behind after white-nose syndrome killed off a colony.
Government land managers have already closed caves and abandoned mines in most states east of the Mississippi.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended cutting off access to caves in states where the fungus has been detected as well as adjacent states. But it has stopped short of advising nationwide closures.
The groups contend piecemeal closures are inadequate to address what the government itself has described as an unprecedented wildlife disease that is expected to infect colonies in the West and Pacific Northwest.
Organic farming groups behind the proposed action say the syndrome could devastate their industry along with the bats.
The pest-control benefits of insect-eating bats are estimated to save agriculture in the United States from $3.7 billion to $53 billion a year, according to a recent study by Boston University and other scientists.
Closures - including proposals now under consideration on public forest lands in Montana and northern Idaho - have been hotly contested by cavers, with 10,000 members and 250 caving clubs organized under the National Speleological Society.
Mike McEachern, head of the Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto, a caving club, said those organizations are committed to preserving caves and the bats that inhabit them. But he predicted a debate over closing caves would be contentious.
"Most of the caves in the West are on federal property and asking to close all caves is like asking the government to close the ocean," McEachern said.
Ann Froschauer, national white-nose syndrome spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the government is scrambling to gather the science that may help combat the killer bat disease.
"We're looking at potentially losing over half of our bat species; we're trying not to create a new potential epicenter out West," she said.
White nose syndrome continues devastating march west
By Carolyn Beeler, April 25, 2011
Bats in Pennsylvania are leaving their caves after a season of hibernation, but their colonies are much diminished. Scientists say white
nose syndrome has caused a massive number of deaths in Western Pennsylvania hibernacula for the first time this winter.
"Last year we had the fungus there," said Greg Turner, endangered mammal specialist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. "This year we had mortalities starting at those sites and some neighboring sites, and we were able to confirm it across a much larger geographic area."
Turner said of the two sites he monitored, he guesses mortality rates to be about 70 to 80 percent. About 90 percent of affected populations along the East Coast have died.
White nose syndrome is characterized by white fuzz that develops on the ears, nose and wings of hibernating bats. Scientists still don't know exactly how bats are dying, but the illness strikes and may be spread during hibernation. This winter was an important one for research in Pennsylvania.
DeeAnn Reeder, a biologist at Bucknell University and leading white nose syndrome researcher, ran experiments trying to determine exactly why bats are dying, and looking into possible preventive measures.
She and colleagues ran an experiment in a mine shaft near Allentown to see if anything could prevent the growth of the fungus. They built mesh cages and put bottles of different compounds underneath, with the idea that the evaporating liquids might protect the bats in the cages above. Instead, the cages made the bats a target for a different threat: raccoons.
"It was an incredibly disheartening day," Reeder said. "When we got in there, we went to the first cage and saw that it had been ripped open and all the bats were gone. My heart sank and I was pretty sure we would find all the other cages in the same condition, and, in fact, we did."
Turner said the team did not expect raccoons to descend that far underground. What's worse, of the 3,000 to 4,000 bats that were alive in the cave last fall, fewer than 200 were left this spring.
Cases of the mysterious disease were confirmed for the first time in Indiana, North Carolina and Kentucky this winter.
Reeder, Turner and others from around the country will meet in Arkansas next month to share research from experiments conducted
during this winter's hibernation.
Montana cavers wary of closures due to bat disease
By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulianmissoulian.com | Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2011
Mike McEachern would like to talk about the wonders of caves, but a fast-moving crisis in the subterranean world is keeping his attention above ground.
"I suspect I'm going to be spending much less time in the wilderness," the leader of the Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto caving club
said this week. "I'm going out and talking to people instead of doing the thing that I love."
The problem is a disease devastating cave bat communities in the eastern United States called White Nose Syndrome. The influential
environmental group Center for Biological Diversity is petitioning for a nationwide closure of caves on public lands, Endangered Species Act prosecution of anyone traveling between bat caves and efforts to buy private-land caves to protect the bats.
The effort has already triggered cave closures on U.S. Forest Service lands in the East, South and Midwest, along with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service advisory to other federal land managers to close their caves and institute decontamination rules for those who do enter caves. But the closures - and the disease - have yet to take hold in the Pacific Northwest and much of the Southwest. McEachern believes the closures are an overreaction unjustified by the available science. But he doesn't doubt the fate of bats demands attention.
"What's happening is people want to help bats, they feel hopeless, there's a million bats dead, that's horrible, they're grasping around
maybe cavers can spread it," he said. "But with closures, they're not getting much bang for the buck. They're losing their first line of
defense by closing caves to cavers."
Like bats themselves, White Nose Syndrome is a little-understood issue with enormous consequences. Science magazine researchers in
April found that the loss of bats in North America would lead to about $22.9 billion in losses to the agricultural industry. That's
because bats eat massive numbers of crop pests that otherwise would require chemical control.
A single little brown bat eats 4 to 8 grams of insects a night. The Science authors estimated the 1 million bats killed so far by White Nose Syndrome are no longer eating between 660 and 1,320 metric tons of bugs a year.
"Some of these species are clearly headed for extinction if things don't change," Center for Biological Diversity conservation advocate
Mollie Matteson said. "It is a sacrifice, but I have met many cavers who've hung up their gear. They don't want to be responsible for moving this deadly fungus around. They may need to give this sport up."
Scientists do know that White Nose Syndrome is spread by a fungus, Geomyces destructans, that appeared suddenly in bat colonies around Albany, N.Y., in 2006. The fungus causes a white residue to build up around the noses of hibernating bats, killing them. In some caves that support colonies with thousands of bats, it can kill the entire community in two to three years.
Bats spread the fungus among themselves, and can contract the disease by entering an infected cave where another colony has died out. What's not clear is whether humans can carry the fungus from cave to cave in a way that will transfer to bats.
"We're not saying human beings are a major vector or will cause some pattern that wouldn't occur naturally," said Ann Froschauer of the Fish and Wildlife Service. "But we've seen really big jumps in western Oklahoma and Missouri that aren't easily explained by bat movement. And we're trying to prevent that process being speeded up by big jumps."
On Wednesday, FWS officials in Kentucky confirmed the first case of White Nose Syndrome in that state. That brings the total infected states to 16, along with three Canadian provinces.
A caver and self-professed "bat dork," Froschauer said she understands the upset felt by the caving community. It's similar to the
challenge anglers face trying to control invasive pests that cling to their boats and felt-soled wading boots. That's why the agency has also recommended vigorous decontamination of all gear when cavers travel between caves.
"We know humans can move things around - this has happened with lots of other endangered species," Froschauer said. "And if we take a step back from WNS and look at cave ecosystems, I think we can agree decontaminating between sites is a good idea. Even caves half a mile apart have specific, endemic critters that live there. This is something cavers should be keeping up after WNS has moved through."
McEachern agrees with the decontamination regime, noting the National Speleological Society has embraced it and rallied its members to support more bat research. But he also noted that caves in the Rocky Mountains appear to have very different bat habitat than the mostly eastern U.S. areas that have White Nose Syndrome outbreaks.
"We don't have huge hibernaculums like they have in the East," he said. "A cave in Montana that had 2,000 bats would be a huge
hibernaculum for an alpine cave. In one major cave system in the wilderness, we've been going there for years and we've never seen a
single bat. With all the years I've spent doing archaeology, I've carefully looked at floors for bones, and never seen a bat bone."
Fatal bat disease confirmed in Kentucky
By James Bruggers, Louisville Courier-Journal, Apr. 13, 2011
Two months after a devastating bat disease was confirmed in Indiana, wildlife officials announced Wednesday that it has been detected in Kentucky — and will affect operations at the state's most famous bat habitat, Mammoth Cave.
Having found the presence of white-nose syndrome in a little brown bat in Trigg County, in southwest Kentucky, wildlife officials said they euthanized it and some 60 other little brown bats and tri- colored bats that were in the same cave and suspected of having the disease.
Biologists checked other caves within 16 miles and found no other evidence of the disease. But authorities found little comfort in
that, as they anticipated the likely spread of the disease and its devastating effects, which include an impact on the agriculture
"This is likely the most significant disease threat to wildlife Kentucky has ever seen," said state wildlife resources Commissioner
Jonathan Gassett, in a written statement. "We plan to aggressively manage this threat of (white nose syndrome) as it occurs in Kentucky in order to protect and conserve our bat populations."
Fungus sweeps across the country, killing bats
Biologists believe the long-range consequences could be dire, but the remedies could be just as dangerous.
By Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, April 3, 2011
Reporting from Ruidoso, N.M.— More than 100 hibernating bats hang from the vaulted ceiling of a chilly gallery in central New Mexico's Fort Stanton Cave, seemingly unaware of the lights from helmet lanterns sweeping over their gargoyle-like faces.
The mood is heavy with anxiety as biologists Marikay Ramsey and Debbie Buecher search for signs of white-nose syndrome, a novel,
infectious and lethal cold-loving fungus that digests the skin and wings of hibernating bats and smudges their muzzles with a powdery
"These bats look fine, which is a relief," U.S. Bureau of Land Management endangered animal specialist Ramsey said as she prepared to log the humidity and temperature of the cave in a hand-held computer. "But we still worry that the disease could hit New Mexico this winter or the next. If that happens, we may have to close every cave and abandoned mine in the state."
Biologists across the nation are facing a similarly grim scenario. Since it was discovered in New York four years ago, the fungus has
swept across 17 states as far west as Oklahoma, killing a million bats. A majority of the dead were little brown bats, which have lost an estimated 20% of their population in the northeastern United States over the last four years. The fungus seems to prefer the 25 species of hibernating bats, but each of the 45 species of bats in the United States and Canada may be susceptible to white-nose syndrome.
Geomyces destructans was first documented in 2007 in New York's Howe Caverns, commercial attraction visited by thousands of tourists from around the world each year. As the disease began to spread, researchers learned that a similar fungal growth had long been seen on the faces and wings of hibernating bats in Europe.
Now scientists are scrambling to figure out whether the fungus was introduced by a bat or a caver from Europe. If it is from Europe,
they wonder, has the fungus killed bats there or have they adapted to living with the pathogen? Or did the fungus already live in North America but recently mutate to become the virulent wildlife disease?
"It is unbelievably sad and disheartening, and we can't seem to move fast enough to get ahead of it," said U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist LeAnn White. "We may be looking at phenomenal losses across the country with unknown ecological consequences."
Bats have always existed at close to the numbers seen prior to the arrival of white-nose syndrome, feasting on such night-flying insects as mosquitoes, which transmit West Nile virus, and agricultural pests damaging to cotton and corn crops. They also pollinate plants, including the saguaro cactus. "We don't know what will happen if they disappear," said USGS biologist Paul Cryan. A recent study published in Science estimates that the value of pest control provided by bats each year is at least $3.7 billion nationwide.
As the syndrome continues to spread westward along migratory flyways, Thomas Kunz and Jonathan Reichard of Boston University's Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology have urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the little brown bat, one of the most common mammals in the United States, as endangered.
The listing would provide the greatest legal protections — on both public and private lands — for the chocolate-colored, mouse-sized
insectivore which, the biologists are virtually certain, is facing regional extirpation in the northeastern United States within 15 years.
Greg Turner, an endangered animal specialist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, knows the sickening feeling of discovering hundreds of carcasses of these nocturnal animals in caves he has monitored for decades. "There are a million bats in Pennsylvania alone, and half of them are dead," he said. "I'd be surprised if the disease hasn't taken up half the nation by the end of this winter."
Scientists have considered using fungicides, but studies have shown they could kill other microbes in caves, perhaps setting off a chain of unintended consequences. Another option, placing heaters in caves, would disrupt bat hibernation, those studies found.
Killing infected animals would slow the spread of the disease but would not eliminate it because of the complexity of bat life,
according to research conducted by Tom Hallam and Gary McCracken of the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis at the University of Tennessee.
"It would be all but impossible to find and kill every infected bat," Hallam said. "Yet, because of the size of bat colonies and the many
arenas in which they interact — reproduction, hibernation, swarming, mother and pup activities — it would only take one infected bat to start it all over again."
State and federal officials have already closed thousands of caves nationwide to prevent humans from spreading spores picked up on
clothing and caving gear. But caves and abandoned mines are found on land governed by many agencies. Their response has been criticized as slow and disorganized.
Where have all the bats gone?
The mysterious and dreaded white-nose syndrome fungus struck Pennsylvania's hibernating bats two years ago. Here's the latest on efforts to prevent many of the state's native bats from disappearing.
By Ad Crable, LancasterOnline.com, 15 March 2011
BURNHAM, Mifflin County — Greg Turner removes a heavy metal bar from the vandal-proof gate and eases his lanky body through a small opening and into the Mount Rock limestone cave.
Just over two years ago, the Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife biologist and a Bucknell University researcher knelt in the snow
outside a similar cave not 10 miles from here and examined the bodies of hundreds of dead bats.
Their worst fears had come true: The mysterious white-nose syndrome fungus was in Pennsylvania. Bats were going to die. Perhaps most of the state's bats.
Now, it is time to check on the bats that use this cave.
Turner last surveyed the bats here two years ago. He had found 125 bats then and some had white-nose syndrome. But within 5 feet of the entrance, he finds a big brown bat wedged in a horizontal crack no wider than a pencil.
Turner shines his high-powered headlamp into the crevice and the bat stirs.
"That's a good sign that he's not affected by white-nose syndrome because one of the clinical signs is that they don't arouse. They are
very lethargic," Turner says, pleased.
We make our way through dry dust and tilted slabs of rock that sometimes require grunting belly-crawling to proceed. Water drips,
surprisingly loud. The low-head rock ceiling harbors large orb spiders. Soon the Game Commission's wildlife biologist specializing in nongame mammals has more reason to be guardedly pleased.
Two clusters of big browns are plastered to a wall, on top of each other. Turner counts 37, the most he's ever found in this cave, which has been monitored since 1986. Two years ago, there were only eight.
More importantly, he checks the bats' noses and bodies for telltale signs of the white fungus that means they are doomed.
He finds none.
"It's good to see that there's a good number of these big browns," he says, scribbling the count in a notebook. "This may be the bat species we have left in big abundance in Pennsylvania, these big browns."
The little brown bat used to be the most common bat in the state. But in caves where they hibernate, the species has been suffering 99 percent mortality.
Same thing for six of seven other bat species native to the state that use caves and mines, such as pipistrelle bats, little brown
bats, tri-colored bats, Indiana bats, northern long-eared bats and small-footed bats.
Big browns and a couple species of tree bats alone seem not to be devastated by the fungus.
The fungus was first discovered by cavers in upstate New York in February 2006. Since then, the fungus, which so far has no known
cure, has marched grimly through bat colonies along the East Coast from New Hampshire to Tennessee. Indiana just reported bats with
white-nose syndrome. Estimates are more than 1 million hibernating bats have died. The fungus causes lesions on exposed parts of the bats. They have low body weights. Some arouse from hibernation for no apparent reason and fly out looking for non-existent insects. They starve or freeze to death, some outside the cave, some dying while suspended, dropping to the floor.
Of the 60 to 100 caves Turner monitors around the state, 35 have bats with the fungus. Others he doesn't enter just in case it's humans
spreading the disease. Others are coal mines, which are too dangerous to enter.
In those 35 monitored caves, there has been astounding bat mortality of 96 percent, meaning perhaps 140,000 of 150,000 bats in them have died within two years. Only the presence of the big brown bat survivors keeps the mortality rate from being even more devastating.
Cavers aboveboard about desire to go underground
National caving convention heading to Glenwood; asks Forest Service for exemption from closure of caves, mines
Scott Condon, Aspen Correspondent, Post Independent Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado, March 4, 2011
Between 900 and 1,500 cavers converging on the Roaring Fork Valley for a national convention in July might have underground access
limited because of a disease that is decimating bats in the eastern half of the U.S.
The National Speleological Society (NSS) will hold its annual convention and 70th anniversary celebration in Glenwood Springs July
18-22. The organization is seeking an exemption from a temporary closure of caves and abandoned mines put in place last July by the five-state Rocky Mountain Region of the Forest Service. The closure includes the White River National Forest, which surrounds Aspen and includes a large part of western Colorado.
The Forest Service said the temporary closure was needed while more research is performed into the spread of white nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has killed an estimated 1 million bats since it was first detected in New York State in 2006. The epidemic has raced through bat colonies in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. It "leap-frogged" into Missouri and western Oklahoma last year, leaving it just a few hundred miles from Colorado's forests.
The spread of the disease isn't well understood yet. The Forest Service ban is a precaution against cavers spreading it through their
clothing or equipment. The closure order allows exemptions "where special permittees can control access in and out of the caves."
Dave Lester, co-chairman of the NSS convention, said the organization is prepared to take numerous precautions to make sure none of its members can be considered a cause for the possible spread of the disease.
"Our goal is to protect the bats as much as can be done," he said, noting that cavers are "incredibly environmentally oriented." Many
cavers revere bats as part of the underground environment, he said. NSS's precautions include organizing tours in caves that aren't
regular habitat for bat colonies. Forest Service documents indicate NSS wants to tour Fulford Cave southeast of Eagle, an unspecified cave in the Coffee Pot area of the Flat Tops and an unspecified cave near Lime Park in the Upper Fryingpan Valley.
Cavers who attend the convention will be asked to leave their own gear at home. "We will provide loaner gear," Lester said.
The clothing and equipment will be decontaminated before and after visiting caves using procedures approved by wildlife officials.
NSS is willing to take those precautions even those scientific research is starting to establish that human activity probably
doesn't play a role in the spread of white nose syndrome, Lester said. The disease has affected migrating bat species that live in
extremely close proximity to one another. He believes research will show the epidemic is likely being spread by bats getting exposed at one colony and bringing it to another colony, he said.
"There's a fair amount of research that must be done," Lester acknowledged.
The Forest Service hasn't ruled yet on whether to grant a special-use permit to provide access to the caves, White River National Forest spokesman Pat Thrasher said Thursday. "Stay tuned for more," he said.
Theory About Mammals and Fungus Explains Bat Plague
Wynne Parry, February 2, 2011
Hibernating bats, fungal infections, warm-bodied mammals, the mass extinction of the dinosaurs – one controversial theory from 2005
connects them all.
White-nose syndrome, the disease now believed to have killed around a million North American bats, confounded scientists after it was first documented in 2006. In a sense it was merely a sort of athlete's foot: a fungal infection that attacked the skin. So how did it kill?
Researchers have found a clue in Arturo Casadevall's theory based on the ability of mammals' bodies to control, and elevate, their temperatures.
In 2005, Casadevall, chairman of the department of microbiology and immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, first proposed that, since many potential fungal attackers can't handle temperatures much higher than those of the environment, this ability gave mammals an advantage over other animals. Researchers exploring the pathology of white-nose syndrome have found the idea helpful, because such a protection would disappear during hibernation, when bats' body temperatures drop.
Casadevall says he is following the white-nose research with interest. "It's very important because it provides indirect evidence that
this theory had legs," Casadevall told LiveScience. Casadevall extended this idea to speculate that, given evidence of an intense flurry of fungal growth around the time of the dinosaurs' extinction, the success of mammals after the extinction of the dinosaurs may have had a body heat connection. That suggestion has not been well received by paleontologists.
In the cold
Of the more than 1.5 million estimated species of fungus, only about 150 cause disease in mammals, and only a few of them are common pathogens, Casadevall wrote in a 2005 issue of the journal Fungal Genetics and Biology.
"This was one of the papers I read early on in the white-nose disease investigation, when a lot of people were making the argument that this can't be a fungal disease, because fungal diseases don't kill mammals like this," said David Blehert, a microbiologist with the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center who studies the disease.
The key for the fatalities among bats, it turns out, is hibernation. Hibernation allows animals to survive lean times by slowing their
metabolism dramatically and becoming inactive. However, their immune defenses also weaken. (One study found that hibernating bats with infected wings showed no signs of inflammation, an immune response expected to occur in injured tissues.)
In the lab, the white-nose fungus, which inhabits soil, grows in temperatures from 34 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 15 degrees
Celsius). That is well below the body temperature of a bat — when it's not hibernating.
"All of a sudden this cold-loving fungus can get into the tissues of bats," said Paul Cryan, a bat ecologist with the USGS.
A Grim Forecast for West Virginia Bats
Chris Lawrence, WV MetroNews, Elkins, January 11, 2011
The West Virginia DNR's mid-winter bat survey is coming up in the next few weeks. The exercise has been an annual one by biologists
who until two years ago were focused solely on increasing the bat numbers and making decisions to help abundant bats flourish and
endangered bats to hold their own. However, that usual exercised that was normally filled with optimism and hope is now a fairly dark activity. White nose syndrome was noticed in a cave in Pendleton County in 2009. During the 2010 survey, the fungus had spread to caves in other parts of the state. "We're expecting it to spread even further this year, there's really nothing stopping it," said DNR Biologist Craig Stihler. "Folks in New York and Pennsylvania have seen once it's in an area it tends to spread to all nearby caves. It's looking pretty grim."
Stihler says they are delaying their survey, finding that later in the winter is when the syndrome manifests itself and does the most damage. The disease is named for the white patch of fungus it leaves on the bat's nose and it's marked by a wretched impact on the bat.
"It causes the bats to use of their fat stores too early so they literally starve to death and leave the cave," Stihler said. "We've
already got reports from Pendleton County of snow on the ground and bats flying around. It's not looking good."
Biologists across the country are in a race against time. They're attempting to find the source of the fungus and ways to stop it, but they
hope to do it before some species are literally wiped out with nothing left to repopulate their numbers.
"It varies from species to species," said Stihler. "Little brown bats, which are our most common bat, are being hit really hard.
There's some thought the species could go extinct in the next 15 to 20 years."
However, the rare and endangered Virginia Big Eared bats, which do have the greatest numbers in West Virginia, do not appear to be as adversely impacted. Stihler says they're hoping that doesn't change.