During the winter of 2006-7, researchers identified odd behavior, illness, and death among bats in New York state. The responsible disease “White-Nose Syndrome” (WNS), has been tied back to possible infection by the fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans. The Syndrome has proved to be highly lethal, killing more than 6 million bats (including big brown bats, gray bats, Indiana bats, little brown bats, Northern long-eared bats, and tri-colored bats) over the past decade.
The disease has spread rapidly over the past decade. From its first observation in New York, there have now been confirmed WNS sightings in 31 states and 5 Canadian provinces, including observations as far west as Washington state, and as far south as Alabama. Surveys in January and February of 2017 first detected the Pseudogymnoascus destructans fungus on bats in Texas, discovering infections on the tri-colored bat, cave mytosis and Townsend’s big-eared bat.
Scientists still hope that WNS will not strike hard at non-hibernating bats in Texas, such as the Mexican free-tailed bats seen at the famous downtown colony under Austin’s Congress Avenue bridge and in the world’s largest known bat colony, at Bracken Cave near San Antonio. In the meantime, researchers are working on new techniques to slow the spread of WNS, with improvements in the detection of Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the treatment of bats with WNS infection, the development of vaccines, and the testing of changes to the climate in hibernation areas that might slow fungal growth.
Stevens, Patty. 2017. Chief, Trust Species and Habitats Branch, Fort Collins Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey. Personal communication, April 18, 2017.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2017. White-Nose Syndrome: The Devastating disease of hibernating bats in North America. April 2017.