Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Jana Mathia
Gazette Reporter 

Appear in Seattle area: White-nose syndrome threatens bat population

 

April 25, 2019



With the emergence of spring, many animals are coming out of winter hibernation. One of those creatures is the only true flying mammal, the bat. While the benign night feeder has intrigued and stirred the imaginations and fears of humans for centuries, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has a particular reason to keep a closer eye on the bats in Eastern Washington. Not for fear of bats, but for them.

“If white-nose comes and kills colonies, we’ll have issues with bugs,” said Staci Lehmen, communications consultant with WDFW, noting the important role bats play in the ecosystem.

By white-nose she means white-nose syndrome, a mold that has devastated bats in the eastern United States. The fungal disease has killed millions of bats, mostly on the East Coast.

Over time the disease has spread from the Northeast south and to the Mississippi River area.

Then, in 2016, the first case of the disease was found about 30 miles east of Seattle, more than two states away from the nearest known contaminated area.

As of now, it has not been reported in Eastern Washington.

“We want to keep it that way,” Lehman said.

The mold grows on bats during hibernation. It messes with their body functions so they wake up in winter when there is no food and the bats starve. It makes then unable to regulate their body temperature which is key for hibernating mammals. In other cases, it impacts the wings so they become fragile and the bats fall when trying to fly. If the bats can continue to function despite the interference, the mold keeps eating into the bat’s tissue.

When bats are awake and active, the mold is kept at bay. It is when they sleep it starts to spread.

Lehman stated the theory for how the mold spread to Washington state is some spores hitched a ride on a rock-climber or spelunker or their gear. Regardless how it came to the state, containment is now the only prevention as there is no way to protect or cure infected bats.

One of the best things citizens can do against WNS is to avoid entering areas where bats live. People who have a colony of 20 or more bats living on or near their property can, if they are willing, contact WDFW to have a professional monitor the health of the bats without disturbing them. Also, if citizens see multiple dead bats they should notify WDFW. Lehman stressed one or two dead bats is not a concern, that’s a natural occurrence. If there is a trend, however, that raises some flags.

If a person does come across a colony of hibernating bats, WNS can be detected by the presence of a white spot, commonly on the nose, but it could also manifest on the wings, ears or body. Regardless whether the bats are infected or not, people should not touch or disturb them.

Those who hike or explore areas with bats should follow the National White-Nose Syndrome Decontamination Protocol. The full protocol is available at http://www.whitenosesyndrome.org. There are procedures for on site contamination including thoroughly removing sediment for equipment immediately upon exiting the site, containing all exposed equipment in bags for decontamination elsewhere and cleaning exposed skin. The off site protocol breaks down the recommended ways to remove, clean, treat, rinse and decontaminate. According to the protocol, all persons who come into contact with bats, their environment and/or associated materials for any reason are advised to take precautions to avoid inadvertent spreading of the WNS fungus to uncontaminated areas.

WNS does not pose a health threat to humans, pets or other animals.

In Eastern Washington, the most common species of bats are the little brown bat, which is about the size of a human hand, and the big brown bat, although, Lehman pointed out, there are other varieties as well.

 
 

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