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Contact: Patrick T. Isakson, 701-328-6338
Fungus that Causes White-Nose Syndrome in Bats Detected in North Dakota for the First Time
NORTH DAKOTA: A fungus that causes white-nose syndrome (WNS), a deadly disease of hibernating bats but not a direct health risk for humans, has been detected in North Dakota for the first time. The fungus was detected on one little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) that was captured on the night of May 6, 2019 within the boundary of Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, during proactive WNS testing conducted by the National Park Service Northern Great Plains Network in collaboration with the University of Wyoming.
Bats are important for healthy ecosystems and contribute at least $3 billion annually to the U.S. agriculture economy through pest control and pollination. WNS has killed millions of bats in North America —with mortality rates of up to 100 percent observed at some colonies—since it was first seen in New York in 2006. To date, WNS has been confirmed in bats from 33 states and 7 Canadian provinces. North Dakota joins Wyoming, Mississippi and Texas as states that have detected Pd, but not yet confirmed WNS. The fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, (Pd) causes WNS, named for the powdery, white fungus that often appears around infected bats’ muzzles.
“Detection of the fungus in North Dakota this May demonstrates the continued expansion of this invasive pathogen through North America,” said Jeremy Coleman, National White-nose Syndrome Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which leads the national response to WNS. “As Pd continues to spread into new territory, biologists from many agencies and institutions are working together to understand and manage the impact of WNS on our native bats.” The National Park Service supported the operation with funds dedicated to WNS response in national parks to actively protect bats and their habitats.
The fungus was detected in North Dakota during field examination of live bats using swab samples that were sent to the Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for testing. Those results were repeated in follow-up tests by the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center. While these results confirm the presence of the fungus, they do not confirm that the bat had WNS disease, which can only be confirmed by microscopic examination of tissue samples. Tissue samples were not collected from this individual bat.
The National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USGS, University of Wyoming, and North Dakota Game and Fish Department will continue to work together to screen for Pd and WNS in North Dakota. “It’s difficult to determine where this individual bat encountered the fungus, because these bats were captured after they emerged from winter hibernation when they already could have traveled hundreds of miles this spring,” said Patrick Isakson, biologist with North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
“The National Park Service works with many other state and federal agencies of the White-nose Syndrome Response Team to learn more about the fatal disease and how to slow its spread,” said Michelle Verant, National Park Service Wildlife Veterinarian and WNS expert. “Because of these proactive efforts to look for Pd, we are better positioned to respond and protect valuable bat populations.”
State and federal agencies are asking for help to stop the spread of this disease. The best way to help protect bats is by staying out of caves and areas that are closed. If you see a dead or sick bat, notify park rangers or state biologists. Do not handle bats. Additionally, you can help slow the spread of WNS by decontaminating your caving and hiking gear and boots, and by not moving potentially contaminated clothing and equipment to areas where Pd is not known to occur. Visit the white-nose syndrome website for more information.
The agencies and organizations of the White-nose Syndrome Response Team are dedicated to finding ways to reduce the effects of WNS and improve survival of bats. Several potential solutions are under development, including habitat modification, biologically derived antifungal agents and a vaccine for bats. The National Park Service is also involved in these efforts and posted information about the National Park's Service response to WNS.
Last updated: June 28, 2019