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May 2010

About as Destructive as You Can Imagine
White Nose Syndrome Fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans)

Contact: Dana Limpert; Biodiversity Analyst for MD Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service | DanaL.LIMPERT@maryland.gov

wns
Photo courtesy of Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental Conservation

ANNAPOLIS, MD (May 11, 2010) - Several dead bats and over two hundred visibly affected bats were found by a Maryland DNR biologist during an early spring survey conducted on March 5, 2010 in an Allegany County cave near Cumberland. The dead bats, with visible signs of a white fungus around the muzzle, were shipped to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin and were verified as being infected by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the dreaded white fungus associated with White Nose Syndrome (WNS). In addition to the muzzle, bats with WNS may also have the fungus on the forearms, wing and tail membranes. The fungus is aptly named because WNS is suspected of being a factor in the killing of more than a million bats in the eastern US and Canada; for that reason WNS has been chosen as the MISC Invader of the Month for May.

Bats with WNS use up their fat reserves before winter ends, likely the result of increased frequency of arousal during hibernation. Starving bats may fly outside the cave and die because their main food source, insects, are not active in cold weather. Biologists arenít sure if the fungus is the cause of the deaths or a symptom of another stressor.

Bats are important predators of night-flying insects including many species that are pests or injurious to agriculture crops and gardens. WNS has caused unprecedented declines of bats and the ecological consequences are unknown. All bat species found in caves are known to be susceptible to WNS. Two bat species are already endangered in Maryland and have both been reported from the affected cave. Two species, the small-footed bat (Myotis leibii) and northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) may be considered for federal listing in response to WNS.

White-nose syndrome was first discovered in a cave near Albany, New York in February 2006. WNS has been confirmed or suspected in 10 other states in the eastern U.S. from New Hampshire to Tennessee; Missouri and Delaware are the most recent additions to the list of affected states. Just recently, WNS has been found in Ontario and Quebec, Canada. Since 2006, biologists have reported as much as a 100% decline in hibernating bats in affected caves. Some biologists suspect that the fungus, Geomyces destructans, associated with WNS is a non-native pathogen recently introduced to the United States.

Though not known to be harmful to humans; there is an urgent need to prevent the spread of this deadly syndrome. Aside from the Cumberland caves, Marylandís other important winter sites, also called bat hibernacula, appear to be clean of WNS; for now. WNS is likely spread by contact among bats and with their environment. Scientists have evidence that WNS could be transferred to caves from humans visiting caves. Contaminated clothing and gear may transmit spores into new areas; potentially impacting additional vital bats populations.

The USFWS requests that cavers refrain from caving in all WNS affected states and adjoining states. Cavers should refrain from caving anywhere during hibernation to minimize disturbance and mortality to bats. MD DNR biologists are taking recommended precautions to avoid transmission from one site to another as they conduct surveys to determine the number of affected sites.

For more information:

USGS National Wildlife Health Center

White-Nose Syndrome.org

Invasive.org

For more information about Invasive Species of Concern in Maryland, visit www.mdinvasivesp.org

photos available electronically on request.

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