Deadly fungus found in bat that inhabits Perry County caves

Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Big brown bats as seen in a Missouri cave in 2011. (Ann Froschauer ~ Provided)

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Southeast Missourian learned on Jan. 4 that the tests, which were done in Arizona instead of Jefferson City, found traces of the fungus' genetic material, not actual White Nose Syndrome infection. The Southeast Missourian regrets the error.

A disease that has caused the loss of millions of North American bats recently was found in a bat that lives in a Perry County cave.

The Missouri Department of Conservation confirmed in December that a big brown bat had tested positive for White Nose Syndrome, a disease that plays havoc with a bat's internal system during hibernation.

Anthony Elliott, bat biologist for the department, said a survey of live bats was conducted in Perry County to determine the presence of a fungus that causes the syndrome.

"We did a survey of bats in March," Elliott said. "Interestingly, there was no white growth on the faces and wings of the bats surveyed, a telltale sign of White Nose Syndrome. If you see that white growth on a bat, that means they're infected."

According to Elliott, bats were swabbed around their faces and bodies so cultures could be tested in Jefferson City., Mo. During the testing period, fungus was detected in a big-brown bat.

"That led to more tests," he said. "We even retested the other cultures, just to make sure we didn't miss anything. In any case, the fungus from the big-brown bat showed White Nose Syndrome."

The fungus behind the syndrome, known as geomyces destuctans, causes bats to awaken from hibernation and expend energy needed to get them through the winter. They may begin flying and looking for food in cold weather, a phenomenon that has caused the deaths of more than 5 million North American bats since 2006, and those staggering losses could lead the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to add some species of bats to its endangered list in 2013.

"We've found compelling evidence that the tri-colored bat, the little brown bat and the Northern long-eared bat may need to be listed because of White Nose Syndrome," said T.J. Miller, chief of endangered species for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Midwest region in Bloomington, Minn. "We're analyzing factors and information to see if such a listing is warranted. If so, their listing could come by the summer of 2013."

Miller was unaware of any effort to place the big brown bat on the endangered list because of the Perry County infection and said such a move would have to stem from more compelling evidence.

"One case of infection isn't very compelling," he said.


Pertinent address:

Perryville, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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