Has the Deadly White-Nose Syndrome Spread to Bats on the West Coast?

There may be some very bad news for bats in the Pacific Northwest. The lethal white-nose syndrome (WNS) that has made brown bats nearly extinct in New York and Pennsylvania was confirmed last month in a dead bat in Washington state.

Hikers near the Cascades Mountains found the little brown bat dying alongside a trail March 11. Theyátook it to the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), hoping this nonprofit that helps injured wildlife could save its life. But the bat died two days later.

The bat had an advanced case of WNS, which was first reported in the United States about 10 years ago. Since then, an estimated 6.7 million bats have died in 28 states from New York to Nebraska, as well asáin five Canadian provinces.

Biologists are particularly concerned about how WNS made its way the 1,300 miles from Nebraska to Washington.

“I think this is really bad,” Katie Gillies, director of the Imperiled Species Program at Bat Conservation International, told the Washington Post. “I really do think this is a big leap. Now we’re going to see it radiate from that new point. It’s like having breast cancer and finding that it’s metastasized.”

After the dead bat is genetically tested and its disease analyzed, the Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will check trails and caves around the Cascades for other infected bats to determine how far WNS has extended.

“Every single avenue we look at seems farfetched,” Greg Falxa, a wildlife biologist for the WDFW, told the Washington Post. “This bat had the deterioration already, which suggests the fungus didn’t just get here this year. Who knows how it got here? Everything is speculation right now. We’re starting surveillance in that area.”

While bats may creep some people out, they serve an important purpose. Bats eat insects (a metric ton every night) that would otherwise wreak havoc on crops and trees. For this reason, they are worth up to $53 billion a year to U.S. agriculture. Bats eat mosquitoes, helping to prevent the spread of malaria, West Nile Virus, Zika Virus and other diseases.

“Bats are a crucial part of our ecology and provide essential pest control for our farmers, foresters and city residents, so it is important that we stay focused on stopping the spread of this fungus,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe in a statement.

WNS is considered the worst wildlife disease outbreak in the history of North America. It is not known to spread to humans, pets, livestock or other wildlife, but it can be transmitted from people to bats by fungal spores on clothing, shoes or caving gear.

It was first discovered in eastern New York in the winter of 2006. Itáis believed to have been brought there by someone traveling from Europe, where it’s been found in 12 countries.

The fungus causes a fuzzy white growth on the muzzles of infected bats. As bats hibernate, the fungus penetrates their skin, doing damage to delicate wing tissue. It also interrupts their hibernation, depletes their fat reserves, and leads to dehydration and death. There is no known cure for WNS, but researchers are working on finding one.

A bit of good news for bats in the west is that unlike bats in other parts of the country, they don’t tend to congregate by the thousands in caves, so hopefully WNS won’t spread as quickly, Falxa told the Washington Post.

Gillies, however, is not so positive. “We’ve got 15 western species that have the potential to be infected,” she told the Washington Post. “Containment is not going to be possible.”

As bats succumb to WNS, other bats that manage toáavoid the fungus will flourish, Gillies said, due to less competition and more food. Bats in Asia and Europe have developed immunity to WNS, as could bats in the U.S. –ábut not anytime soon.

Bats “are really long livedů and slow to reproduce,” Gillies told the Washington Post. “They’re very slow to rebound. We won’t see it in our lifetime.”

Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

60 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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sandra vito
Sandra V1 years ago

Thanks

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Marie W.
Marie W1 years ago

And why is it happening at all?

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Kathy K.
Kathy K1 years ago

This is such a tragedy. I hope they can finally find some fix for it.

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Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn1 years ago

OMG !

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Fi T.
Past Member 1 years ago

This is never something good for the human

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Donn M.
Donn M1 years ago

Terrible news.

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william Miller
william M1 years ago

god I hope not

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Kate R.
Past Member 1 years ago

I've always loved bats. It would be tragic to see them substantially decline, but to face a future without them is unthinkable.

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Terri S.
Terri S1 years ago

This is so sad!! Please find a cure soon!!

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