If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
MADISON — For the third year in a row, a statewide survey of bat wintering sites has found no clinical signs of a deadly bat disease — white-nose syndrome — that has killed upwards of 6.7 million bats in the Eastern United States and Canada.
The disease, white-nose syndrome, has continued to spread to neighboring states, however: Illinois has confirmed the disease in four counties in 2013 and an Iowa cave 30 miles from Wisconsin’s border was found in 2012 to have the fungus known to cause white-nose syndrome.
White-hose syndrom map
“We are happy to report from the sites visited and bat samples analyzed that we did not observe any clinical signs of white-nose syndrome or the fungus known to cause the disease,” says Paul White, the Department of Natural Resources conservation biologist leading the Wisconsin bat program’s white-nose syndrome response.
White believes that the work done by DNR, cave and mine owners, other partners and citizens to delay the arrival of white-nose syndrome in the state is paying off and buying more time for researchers to learn more about the disease and potential treatments.
At the same time, White says, “The harsh reality is that the spread of white-nose syndrome across the U.S. has not stopped. The Illinois confirmation of white-nose syndrome in four counties reminds us that this disease is not just an eastern U.S. issue but a very real and imminent threat to our state’s bat population. “
White-nose syndrome, so-called because the fungus leaves a powdery white fuzz on hibernating bats’ noses, ears and wings, kills 70 to 100 percent of bats in contaminated caves. It was discovered in New York in 2006 and has since spread to more than 22 states and five Canadian provinces.
Wisconsin has one of the highest concentrations of hibernating bats in the Midwest, and its population of little brown bats in the largest remaining in the world. Some bats from neighboring states of Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan — up to 300,000 bats — spend their winters here so any disease affecting Wisconsin’s hibernacula has far reaching impacts on the summer landscape and on the industries that depend on bats for natural pest control.
Bats are voracious insect eaters, helping keep crop and forest pests and mosquitoes in check. A recent national study estimated the insect-eating services that bats provide between $658 million to $1.5 billion alone for Wisconsin’s agricultural industry.
To help protect Wisconsin cave bats from the threat of white-nose syndrome, the state added four bat cave species to the state threatened species list, which makes it illegal for people to kill, transport or possess bats without a valid permit.
DNR staff also worked with private landowners to help them take voluntary steps to keep the disease out of caves and mines and with commercial tourist cave operators to educate visitors about the disease and prevention steps. Recreational cavers are required to decontaminate their gear between caves to avoid accidentally spreading the fungus. These and other efforts are described in “Cave Drama,” in the February 2013 Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.
In 2013, to determine if the disease was present in Wisconsin caves and mines with wintering bats, DNR’s bat crew searched 73 sites for signs including a fuzzy white fungus on the nose, mouth and ears of hibernating bats, and unusual behavior like bats hibernating near cave entrances where it’s colder or bats flying outside during the day during winter.
They also enlisted the help of the public by sending out informational magnets to adjacent landowners to the largest hibernacula in the state. Landowners were asked to report any unusual bat activity near hibernacula, which can be a sign that a nearby site has white-nose syndrome, White says.
DNR will continue to collect important baseline information on bat activity in the spring, summer and fall seasons. “Knowing what bat species are here now and in what numbers, along with what habitats they are associated with, will focus any future conservation efforts,” he says.
Two such projects that help gather the much-needed data are the Acoustic Bat Monitoring Project and the Bat Roost Monitoring Project. Both projects heavily rely on citizen volunteers and are always looking for new participants. More information on each project can be found on the Wisconsin Bat Program website or search the DNR website for “bats.”