BOISE - The recent confirmation of white-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease of hibernating bats, in Washington state has heightened concern over bats in Idaho. The primary goal of the state is to prevent the introduction of the fungus that causes WNS while preparing for its potential arrival.
Within the framework of a national response plan led by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is working with state and federal agencies, other western states, tribes, academic institutions, grottos, and nongovernmental organizations to conduct WNS surveillance in Idaho, obtain baseline information on bats, and to develop an interagency coordinated response plan for the state. Part of this effort has involved participation in national and continental studies for early detection of WNS and the fungus that causes it. To date, swab samples collected in Idaho from bats and cave substrates have tested negative for the fungus. In addition, Idaho is in its second year of contributing to the North American Bat Monitoring Program.
The prevention of human-assisted spread of WNS remains an important way to protect bats from WNS. Spores of the fungus that causes WNS can persist for years and could be transported, possibly infecting unexposed bats. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game asks that people respect cave and mine closures and stay out of hibernation sites to reduce disturbance to bats, and to decontaminate gear, equipment, shoes and clothes after going underground and before moving to new areas to reduce the potential for unintentional introduction of the fungus.
At least half of the 14 bat species living in Idaho are known to hibernate in the state. Of those, two species-Big Brown Bat and Little Brown Myotis-have been confirmed for WNS in the eastern US. Two bat species, the Silver-haired Bat and the endangered Virginia Big-eared Bat, an eastern counterpart to Idaho's Townsend's Western Big-eared Bat, have tested positive for the fungus in the East without confirmation of the disease.
Bats are remarkable animals that are vital for a healthy environment, eating tons of insects nightly, benefitting crops, forests, and humans. In Idaho, bats contribute an estimated value of over $313 million in pest control every year to the agricultural industry alone. Studying bats has also led to advancements in sonar, vaccine development, and blood coagulation.
First documented in New York in the winter of 2006-2007, WNS is an emerging infectious disease that kills hibernating bats. Caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), WNS has continued to spread rapidly and as of March 2016, had been confirmed in 28 US states and five Canadian provinces. Evidence of Pd has been detected in four additional states since the winter of 2013-2014. Named for the characteristic white fungus that appears on the ears, muzzle, wing and tail membranes of bats, WNS is estimated to have killed more than 6 million bats in the Northeast and Canada. In some sites, 90-100 percent of the bats present have died.
Scientists from around the world are working together to understand what bats need, how to protect bats, how to help them survive WNS, how this disease affects bats, and ways to stop it. Research includes monitoring bat populations, creating and testing artificial hibernation sites, and reducing impacts of the disease through treatment and biological control.
You can help bats. If you find a bat that is sick, injured, or in a place that isn't safe, contact the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. To report unusual bat mortality/behavior (five or more dead/sick bats at one location) or bats with signs suggestive of WNS (e.g., visible white fungus on the face, wings, or tail), please contact the Idaho Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Health Forensic Laboratory at 208-939-9171 or by email atWildlifelab@idfg.idaho.gov. Report bat colonies in buildings at https://idfg.idaho.gov/species/observations/bat. If bats are in your home and you don't want them there, contact the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for guidance on excluding bats without harming them.
For more information about WNS, visit https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org