White nose syndrome (WNS), a deadly disease that has killed nearly 7 million bats has been confirmed in Alabama.
WNS, identified by a white fungus on the faces, and sometimes bodies, of bats was first documented in 2006 in New York and has been killing tri-colored, little brown, northern long-eared, big brown, small-footed and Indiana bats throughout the U.S. and Canada ever since. Last year the fungus, Geomyces destructans, was confirmed as the cause, rather than a symptom and is believed to be spread from bat to bat and inadvertently by humans who visit caves.
Speculation and hope that the disease wouldn’t reach so far south were put to rest on Wednesday when the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources confirmed its presence in Russell Cave in Jackson County.
“White-nose syndrome had been confirmed in several counties in Tennessee, but had yet to be discovered in Alabama until this year,” said Keith Hudson, a biologist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, in a press release. “This disease is likely one of the most significant disease threats to bat populations in Alabama due to its potential to affect multiple bat species and the devastating nature of the affliction. This disease is not known to affect humans.”
Alabama is home to more than a dozen species of bats, including the Indiana bat and gray bat, which are both federally endangered.
“This disease is not slowing down, and it’s not likely to be any less catastrophic for hibernating bats in Alabama and the Midwest than it has been for bats in the northeastern states,” said Mollie Matteson, a bat specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity.“White-nose syndrome has been an emergency from the beginning, but it’s now a Category 5. Our government needs to put serious money and science into solving this disease storm before it’s too late ― not only for bats but for our crops and our farmers, who depend on bats for insect control.”
The Center highlights a recent study which estimates that bats’ economic value in the form of pest control ranges from $3.7 billion to $53 billion annually.