Newly-discovered fungus may cause white nose syndrome; Oklahoma bat infected

PRATT — In light of the recent discovery of a bat in Oklahoma harboring the fungus Geomyces destructans, chances are that the fungus will also show up in Kansas bats. This newly discovered fungus may cause white nose syndrome (WNS), which has resulted in high mortality rates (some exceeding 90 percent) in bat populations in the eastern United States.

WNS was first identified in New York in 2006 and was blamed in part for deaths of over-wintering cave bats. The origin of the fungus associated with WNS is unknown, but it is thought to have caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of bats across the eastern United States over the past three years. It was recently discovered infecting several bat colonies in eastern Missouri.

The infected bat found in Woodward County, Okla., on May 3 was collected outside of a bat cave located approximately 25 miles from the Kansas state line. It is believed this fungus infects roosting bats in their wintering areas, causing them to become active and use up fat reserves before they normally emerge. The actual cause of death is not known, and researchers believe the increased growth of the fungus is a symptom of bats in poor health possibly due to secondary microbial pathogens and environmental contaminants.

Transmission of the disease is believed to be bat-to-bat contact. However, precautions should been taken to minimize the potential for other transmission modes. Anyone visiting caves is advised to wear clean clothes and boots and use clean gear to avoid the possibility of spreading the fungus from cave to cave.

Approximately 800 caves are known in Kansas, and although most are small and located on private land, some do harbor bats. There are 15 species of bats in Kansas, including the gray myotis of extreme southeastern Kansas, which is on the federal endangered species list. The pallid and Townsend’s big-eared bats are on the state’s Species In Need of Conservation list. The infected bat found in Oklahoma was a cave myotis, the first of this species to be found infected. Pallid, Townsend’s big-eared and cave myotis bats are found in the Red Hills region of southcentral Kansas. The cave myotis is the most common and occurs in the largest colonies.

A possible outbreak of WNS in cave myotis poses a serious threat to this species and possibly others in Kansas. Currently there is no known method to stop the spread. Bats are beneficial because they eat enormous quantities of insects during their nightly feeding flights. There has been no threat identified to humans from G. destructans or the WNS disease.