white nose syndrome

Rick Toomey, National Park Service

Cave surveys over the winter have found a steep decline in the three most common species of bats in Tennessee.

Surveyors found fewer little brown bats, northern long-eared bats and tricolored bats due to the fungal disease white-nose syndrome.

Tennessee Cave Program for the Nature Conservancy Director Cory Holliday said caves that used to shelter thousands of hibernating little brown bats now appear to have none.

Biologists say the impacts of the disease appear to be similar to those already seen in northeastern states, where entire bat populations have been wiped out.

Rick Toomey, National Park Service

Citing drastic population loss, the federal government has listed the northern long-eared bat as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act. This is the first bat species to be protected under the act solely because of the toll the disease white nose syndrome has taken on its population.

White nose syndrome is caused by a white fungus, and it’s deadly to bats. Since 2006, it’s killed nearly 6 million bats in five Canadian provinces and 25 states, including Kentucky.

Under the Endangered Species Act, species can be listed as either “threatened” or “endangered.” White nose syndrome has affected the northern long-eared bat to “the point that it’s basically a species that could become endangered in the foreseeable future,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Georgia Parham. “And this designation of ‘threatened’ extends some of the protections of the Endangered Species Act to this species.”

The northern long-eared bat is found across Kentucky, as well as throughout many Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states. Parham said these bats are among the hardest-hit by white nose syndrome, and are the first to be protected under federal law solely because of the diseases.

“Now, white nose has affected other bat species, and some of those are already endangered—the Indiana bat is a good example,” she said. “It was listed as endangered back in the ’60s and it has been affected by white nose syndrome, but it was already listed before that happened.”

The new federal designation for the bat goes into effect on May 4. It makes it illegal to harm, harass, capture or kill the northern long-eared bat, and also puts certain restrictions on human activities in the bats’ natural habitat. The Fish and Wildlife Service also is proposing a separate rule that will exempt certain activities—including forest management practices and the removal of hazardous trees—under some circumstances in the bats’ habitat, because regulators don’t believe those activities will affect the bats.

Rick Toomey, National Park Service

Researchers say the discovery of a deadly fungal disease in a Warren County cave spells more trouble for the region’s bat populations.

A team of National Park Service scientists found evidence of White Nose Syndrome in Crumps Cave in northern Warren County, near the town of Smiths Grove. WKU owns several acres of land around the cave and operates a research and education preserve there.

White Nose Syndrome, for which there is no known cure, is blamed for the deaths of millions of bats in North America since its discovery in 2006.

The team of NPS researchers observed 53 Tri-colored bats inside Crumps Cave on Feb. 10, with a dozen of them displaying signs of White Nose Syndrome. The disease causes bats to prematurely awaken from their hibernation and leave the cave, which exposes them to freezing conditions. Affected bats use up vital energy and nutrients that are necessary for their survival.

The syndrome was discovered in 2013 in Mammoth Cave National Park, and has led to an 80 percent decline in some bat species found there.

Watch a video about efforts to combat White Nose Syndrome in Mammoth Cave National Park.

Emil Moffatt, WKU Public Radio

A researcher at Mammoth Cave National Park is fearful that a fungal disease is set to kill large numbers of bats in the region.

White Nose Syndrome was first discovered at the park in south-central Kentucky last year, and has impacted at least six of the eight bat species found inside the cave. Rick Toomey, director of the Mammoth Cave International Center for Science and Learning, says researchers at the park are expecting a spike in White Nose cases.

“Unfortunately we’re expecting potentially our next big milestone this year, when we may start seeing fairly large population drops, or possibly finding bats dying of white nose at the park.”

Watch: WKU Public Radio photojournalist Abbey Oldham recently produced a video exploring the potential impact of White Nose Syndrome on the bat populations at Mammoth Cave, and what the park is doing to combat the fungus:

Toomey says an estimated 6.5 million bats in North America have died due to White Nose Syndrome, although he believes the actual number could be much higher. Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee has recently seen a surge in bat deaths due to White Nose Syndrome—deaths Toomey says haven’t shown up yet in official estimates.

Emil Moffatt

After a 10 minute climb up a gentle incline just off the main trail at Mammoth Cave National Park, Rick Toomey stands on a wooden platform overlooking Dixon Cave.

“It’s one of our most important hibernation sites,” said Toomey, the park’s research coordinator.

He says during the winter thousands of bats, including several different species hibernate here.  But those numbers might be on the verge of a drastic change.

“This is a site that could be vastly altered in five years.  In five years we might go in there and find five or ten bats total,” said Toomey. “It’s a very realistic possibility based on what’s been seen elsewhere. And that would be devastating to our ecosystem up here.”

The problem: White Nose Syndrome. It started in the northeast in 2006. It was first noticed at Mammoth Cave in 2013 and has since spread to the caves that welcomed nearly half-a million visitors last year.

Toomey says the fungus that gives White Nose Syndrome its name is just one of the symptoms of the devastating disease.

White-Nose Syndrome Found in Daniel Boone National Forest

May 2, 2013

A rapidly spreading fungal disease affecting bats has been discovered in Daniel Boone National Forest.

The U.S. Forest Service says white-nose syndrome was found on hibernating bats in six caves inside the forest. Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources confirmed laboratory findings.

Some 5.7 million to 6.7 million bats have died since the disease was first detected in New York in 2006. It has since spread across the eastern U.S. as far west as Missouri and into Canada.

Forest Biologist Sandra Kilpatrick says 38 bat hibernation caves were surveyed over the winter, with white-nose syndrome found in six. Those six caves are in Jackson, Rockcastle and Pulaski counties.

No human illnesses have been attributed to white-nose syndrome, although people are able to spread the fungus.

Bat Disease Found in Two More State Parks

Feb 15, 2013

A disease responsible for killing millions of bats in North America has spread to caves at two state parks in eastern Kentucky that are homes to federally endangered bats, parks officials said Friday.

White-nose syndrome has been detected in caves at Carter Caves State Resort Park and Kingdom Come State Park, said state parks department spokesman Gil Lawson. Small numbers of bats have died so far from the disease, he said.

It's the latest red flag in the fight to prevent the spread of the disease in Kentucky, home to large numbers of bats that hibernate in a vast network of caves.

The disease has been found in 10 Kentucky counties - Bell, Breckinridge, Carter, Christian, Edmonson, Hart, Letcher, Trigg, Warren and Wayne, Lawson said. White-nose was confirmed earlier this year at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park and in one of the caves at Mammoth Cave National Park.

White-Nose Syndrome Hits Bats at Cumberland Gap

Feb 11, 2013

White-nose syndrome, a disease deadly to bats, has been confirmed at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

Park Superintendent Mark Woods said laboratory tests on three bats from the park's more than 30 caves tested positive for the disease.White-nose syndrome is known to be transmitted primarily from bat to bat, but it can be carried between caves by humans on clothing, footwear, and caving gear.

White-nose syndrome is not known to affect people, pets, or livestock but is harmful or lethal to hibernating bats.

The USDA Forest Service is extending mine and cave closures to help protect bats, in the fight against white nose syndrome. The disease is expected to spread to caves and abandoned mines in the Daniel Boone National Forest.

National Park Service

Biologists in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have confirmed that two bats found in a park cave have white-nose syndrome. The fungus that causes the disease had been found earlier in the Smokies.