White-nose syndrome detected in bats at Devils Tower National Monument

WYOMING— Today, wildlife researchers confirmed the presence of white-nose syndrome (WNS) in two bats at Devils Tower National Monument.

While this is the first confirmation of WNS in the state, the fungus that causes WNS, Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), was potentially detected in southeast Wyoming as early as 2018.

Biologists from the University of Wyoming discovered evidence of WNS during surveys completed in early May 2021, when they captured and sampled bats to test for the fungus. The work was in collaboration with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department as part of an ongoing regional surveillance project funded by the National Park Service.

The samples were sent to the Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Lab where they detected the presence of Pd on four of the 19 bats tested. Two species – a northern-long eared bat and a fringed myotis – showed visible signs of WNS. Additional samples from these bats were sent to the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center which confirmed WNS in both bat species.

The presence of WNS in Wyoming is not a surprise for wildlife managers. The disease was confirmed in the nearby Black Hills in South Dakota in 2018, and more recently in a dead bat found in Fallon County, Montana in April 2021.

“The spread of white-nose syndrome and Pd into northeastern Wyoming is disheartening and frustrating,” said Devils Tower Chief of Resources Management Russ Cash. “The devastation that white-nose syndrome brings to bat populations is terrifying. Bats are such an important piece of our ecosystem and our well-being as humans. Bats devour unbelievable amounts of insects and pests that are a nuisance to humans.”

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the NPS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to work together to implement state and national response plans for WNS within the state. Detection of WNS at Devils Tower demonstrates the continued and unfortunate spread of this deadly disease, which has killed millions of bats in North America since the fungus first appeared in 2006 in New York. Scientists believe humans may have unintentionally brought the Pd fungus from Eurasia to the U.S. Wyoming is the 37th state to confirm the disease, which has also been found in seven Canadian provinces.

According to a 2016 report from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, WNS has broader ecological implications beyond the direct effect on bat populations. The Forest Service estimated in 2008 that the die-off from white-nose syndrome means that at least 2.4 million pounds of insects will go uneaten and become a financial burden to farmers, possibly leading to crop damage or having other economic impacts in New England.

Additionally, it is estimated that bats save farmers in the U.S. 3 billion dollars annually in pest control services. Also, numerous bat species provide crucial pollination and seed dispersal services.

State and federal agencies throughout the West are asking for the help of outdoor enthusiasts to slow the spread of WNS. The fungus that causes this disease is primarily spread through direct contact between bats. However, people can spread Pd when using clothes, footwear and gear that has been used at infected bat roosts, such as caves or rock crevices.

The best way to reduce the risk of spread is to stay out of closed caves and mines; use site-dedicated footwear, clothing and gear; and clean and disinfect these items before and after visiting caves and other places where bats live. National guidance for movement and decontamination of gear can be found at www.whitenosesyndrome.org/topics/decontamination.

The NPS will be working closely with the climbing community at Devils Tower to better understand and develop guidance for climbers to help care for and protect Wyoming’s bat populations – including how to safely clean and disinfect climbing gear. Climbers and cavers who have used gear or clothing in WNS-infected areas should not re-use them in areas not already known to have Pd fungus.

If you see a sick or dead bat, report it to park rangers or Game and Fish biologists, but do not touch or pick up the bat.

Additional information can be found here:

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