The syndrome could affect millions of Colorado Bats who fill an Important Ecological Service in this State. Translation: They Eat Bugs.
It’s here. The disease that has killed possibly millions of bats across parts of North America has arrived. A bat infected with white-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease caused by a deadly invasive fungus has been confirmed in a bat in Colorado for the first time.
The bat was an adult, female Yuma bat (Myotis yumanensis) found March 29 by National Park Service (NPS) staff at Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site in Otero County outside of La Junta. It was on the ground and unable to fly. It appeared to have a white powdery substance on its forearms. NPS staff euthanized the bat and sent it to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center for testing.
Laboratory tests conducted by the USGS confirmed the bat had wing lesions characteristic of WNS and was positive for Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), the fungus that causes the disease.
Last summer, USGS researchers detected the presence of the fungus on a Yuma bat at Bent’s Old Fort during a disease surveillance study funded by NPS. None of the 25 bats captured at that time had signs of WNS. White-nose syndrome affects hibernating bats, often resulting in death before or shortly after they emerge from hibernation in the spring. The fungus also was found at three other sites in Colorado last year – in Baca, Larimer, and Routt counties.
“After the discovery of Pd last year, we expected this news was inevitable in a year or two, given the experience in other states as white-nose syndrome has spread westward,” said Tina Jackson, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) Species Conservation Coordinator. “We’ve been monitoring for the fungus for a number of years and this is the same pattern seen in other states.”
Jackson said CPW will continue to study bats statewide with additional surveys planned this year in collaboration with partners, like NPS and USGS, to assess the spread of white-nose syndrome and its impact on the native bats of Colorado.
“We are working with our partners to monitor these and other bat colonies. Scientists around the world are searching for vaccines and treatments and many actions have already been taken to help conserve bats, minimize the spread and impact of white-nose syndrome and to minimize other sources of mortality for vulnerable bat species. We will implement the most effective measures to ensure our bats’ continued survival throughout our state.”
White-nose syndrome was first documented in New York State in 2006. Since then it has been confirmed in 12 North American bat species and, with the addition of Colorado, it now occurs in 39 states and seven Canadian provinces.
The impact of the disease in Colorado could be devastating. Of the 19 bat species native to Colorado, at least 13 bat species may be susceptible to this disease.
Any large-scale loss of bats would spell trouble for the health of Colorado’s ecosystems and economy, given estimates that these voracious insect eaters contribute $3 billion annually to the U.S. agricultural economy through pest control.
The fungus does not infect humans or pets, and bats are the primary way the fungus spreads. However, the fungus can be transported on gear and clothing that has been in contact with contaminated environments, such as caves where bats hibernate.
State and federal agencies in Colorado and throughout the U.S. ask that outdoors enthusiasts help by following these recommendations:
● Stay out of closed caves and mines.
● Decontaminate footwear and all cave gear before and after visiting or touring caves and other places where bats live.
● Do not touch bats. Report dead or sick ones to CPW by calling 303-291-7771 or email email@example.com.
● Gear and clothing used in areas where Pd or WNS occurs should not be used in areas where Pd is not known to occur. White-Nose Syndrome
● To avoid accidentally transporting bats, check canopies, umbrellas, and other outdoor items for any bats that may have roosted in a nook or cranny.
Visit CPW’s website for more information on WNS. Cooperating state and federal agencies in Colorado include:
● Colorado Parks and Wildlife
● U.S. Geological Survey
● National Park Service
● U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
See the full range of national decontamination guidance for the U.S. at https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/topics/decontamination.
Correction: Ark Valley Voice incorrectly included a photo of fruit bats with this news story, which are not indigenous to Colorado. We appreciate a message from a reader pointing this out and have replaced the image with a photo of the most common bat in the state and widely distributed throughout North America: the Big Brown Bat.
Thank you for sharing this important issue! But one quibble: why use a picture of a fruit bat? They’re aren’t indigenous to anywhere on this continent!
Thank you for pointing that out, Jeff. We replaced it with a photo of one of the 19 bat species indigenous to Colorado.