LITTLE ROCK – White-nose syndrome, a fatal disease to several bat species, has been confirmed in Arkansas, the state Game and Fish Commission said Wednesday.
The disease was documented in two northern long-eared bats found at a cave on a natural area managed by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission in Marion County, according to a news release.
White-nose syndrome is thought to be transmitted primarily from bat to bat, but bats can also catch it from fungal spores carried into caves by humans on clothing, boots and equipment.
The syndrome is not known to pose a threat to humans, pets or livestock.
Five bats were found to have the disease during a survey of the Marion County cave on Jan. 11. The fungus was confirmed by tests on two of the bats by the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center, according to an AGFC news release. The bats had damage to wing, ear and tail membranes consistent with white-nose syndrome.
Researchers returned to the cave a week after their initial survey and found 116 endangered Ozark big-eared bats, 15 northern long-eared bats and 30 tricolored bats in the cave. There were no visible signs of the fungus.
White-nose syndrome is known to affect both northern long-eared bats and tricolored bats, but has not yet been known to harm Ozark big-eared bats. Last winter, an estimated 220 Ozark big-eared bats hibernated in Arkansas caves.
Last summer a low level of the fungus was detected in a cave at Devil’s Den State Park in Washington County and a private cave located in southern Baxter County.
“After finding out that the fungus was present in Arkansas last year, it wasn’t a surprise to confirm that white-nose syndrome was killing bats this winter,” said Blake Sasse, the commission’s nongame mammal program leader.
All caves on AGFC land and Arkansas natural heritage commission natural areas and wildlife management areas were closed in March 2010 to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome.
Owners of caves on private lands are urged to close their caves to public access in order to protect bats. Cave explorers should check with land owners and property managers to check status before visiting any cave. All cave visitors should decontaminate clothing, footwear and equipment before and after cave visits.
Bats with the disease may exhibit unusual behavior during cold winter months, including flying outside during the day and clustering near the entrances of caves and mines where they hibernate. Bats have been found sick and dying in unprecedented numbers near affected sites. Bats play a key role in keeping insects, including agricultural pests, mosquitoes and forest pests, under control.
The disease is associated with massive bat mortality in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic United States. Since the winter of 2006-07, bat population declines ranging from 80 percent to 97 percent have been documented at surveyed hibernation areas that have been most severely affected. Although exact numbers are difficult to determine, biologists estimate that losses may exceed five million bats since 2007.
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