- In March, experts confirmed that a little brown bat had died of white-nose syndrome near North Bend in Washington State.
- This is the first record of the disease in U.S’s west coast.
- Experts say that the discovery of the disease almost 1,300 miles from the previous westernmost detection suggests that humans are most likely responsible for the spread of the disease.
The fatal white-nose syndrome (WNS) that has decimated bat populations across North America has now made its way to western United States.
On March 11, a group of hikers discovered a sick little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) near North Bend in Washington State. Two days later, the bat died.
Experts at the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), and the US Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center tested the bat and confirmed that it had succumbed to WNS.
This is the first time that WNS has been confirmed in Washington State, making it the disease’s first record in western U.S., experts say.
“The discovery of the disease almost 1,300 miles from the previous westernmost detection of the fungus in Nebraska is devastating news,” Katie Gillies, Director of Imperiled Species for Bat Conservation International, said in a statement. “Such a massive jump in geographical location leads us to believe that we humans are most likely responsible for its most recent spread”.
The fungus that causes the disease, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, grows on the faces and wings of hibernating bats. Scientists believe that the fungal infection causes the bats to wake up from their hibernation, fly out of their caves, burn through their fat reserves, and starve to death.
First discovered in 2006, WNS has now spread to 28 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces. The fungus may have come from Europe, experts say, but does not appear to affect the bats there. In the U.S. and Canada, however, the disease has had devastating effects on bat populations.
So far, WNS has been confirmed in seven species of cave hibernating bats, including two endangered species (Gray bat and Indiana bat) and one threatened species (Northern long-eared bat), according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The little brown bats have been hit especially hard, experts say. This species is currently being reviewed by the U.S. FWS for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
“Bats are a crucial part of our ecology and provide essential pest control for our farmers, foresters and city residents, so it is important that we stay focused on stopping the spread of this fungus,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, said in a statement. “People can help by following decontamination guidance to reduce the risk of accidentally transporting the fungus.”
Suzette Kimball, director of the USGS, added that this finding in a far-western location underscores the critical importance of developing tools for early detection and rapid response to potentially devastating wildlife diseases.