Fungus serious threat to North American bats

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Fungus serious threat to North American bats

Postby Cheryl Jones » Jan 8, 2008 12:27 am

Subject: White nose syndrome found in a new Cave

Greetings all,

Yesterday, Sunday January 5, 2008 Joe Armstrong (caver, and Northeastern Cave Conservancy board member), led me and Joe Okoniewski on a trip into Howes Cavern, Schoharie County NY to where he had seen a bat that he thought showed symptoms of the "white nose syndrome". We found the bat, and it appears that he was right (see attached photograph). This was the only clearly infected animal among the 77 bats observed. We saw no dead animals, although this is earlier in the winter than when the problem became evident last winter. What is disturbing is that no carcasses or infected animals were found here by Joe A. last year. Although his 2007 visit was very late in the hibernating season, it seems that some dead bats, or infected animals would have been observed had mortalities been common.

In short, it appears that the white nose problem did not end last winter, and it may be spreading to new hibernacula.

This could be an unpresidented threat to our wintering bat populations. The white of the "white nose syndrome" was identified by DOH as a genus of fungi (Fusarium sp.) that is common in the environment, and is typically associated with plants. It was associated with (but perhaps not the cause) of large scale mortality events in at least two, and probably four, Albany area caves last winter. Thousands of bats died ( 8,000+) representing a high percentages of the entire wintering populations known at these sites. The sites with the most reliable survey data (Hailes Cave and Schoharie Cavern) lost over half their populations last winter alone. Further, there was no evidence of Indiana bats during the 2007 Hailes Cave survey, a loss of roughly 700 animals. As far as I can recall this was the first Hailes cave winter survey since the 1930's in which this species was not observed.


It is important to note that the fungus has not yet been identified to species, or to its geographic origin. It is also important to note that, although the white nose is very obvious in the field, none of the major bat researchers in North America that we contacted (including all in the eastern half of the country and a sample from Europe) have ever seen it before. It seems reasonable to assume that the problem is a new one.

We are working with DEC pathology and DOH to identify the species, and origin of the fungus, to clearly identify the causes of the bat mortalities, and to develop a course of action to make sure that the problem does not spread. We are open to any and all ideas. We will be revisiting last years mortalities sites beginning early next week and will probably have an abundance of samples at that time for any type of suggested analysis.

I will be out of the office until Friday of this week, but can be contacted at 518-461-4632 (cell). Feel free to call at any time.

Thanks,

Al

Alan Hicks
Mammal Specialist
Endangered Species Unit
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
625 Broadway, 5th floor
Albany, NY 12233-4754
(518)-402-8854 Cell (518)-461-4632
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Re: Fungus serious threat to NE bats

Postby John Chenger » Jan 8, 2008 1:46 am

Similar info but also a photo of what this "white nose fungus" looks like on a bat can be seen here:

http://www.batmanagement.com/cgi-bin/ya ... 773599/0#0

Please report and even photograph any bats you see in this condition as the caving community can really help with getting a handle on this before entire hiber sites blink out for no apparent reason. I would say observations anywhere east of the Mississippi could be important.

JC
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Picture of Bats with White Nose

Postby Cheryl Jones » Jan 11, 2008 1:11 pm

Image
From Pack Rat Scat, the Greater Allentown Grotto newsletter (reprinted by request by author Vince Kapler)
BATS IN DANGER!
WHITE NOSE BAT SYNDROME

Submitted By Vince Kappler
Text from the Northeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc.

During the winter of 2006-2007, a large number of dead bats were dis-covered in four Albany NY area caves (Hailes and Knox Caves, Schoharie and Gages Caverns). Although it has not yet been confirmed, it seems likely that this event was related in some way to a fungus that was observed around the noses of roughly half the bats in Hailes Cave (see cover photograph). None of the many bat researchers that were sent the photograph had seen anything like it before.
We do not yet understand exactly what happened, or why, and are not even sure that the fungus and the mortalities are related. We do know that bats died by the thousands and that there is a chance that this problem can be carried to other sites by either bats or cavers.
We need your help. We ask that when caving, each of you keep an eye out for bats exhibiting this white nose condition or any unusual numbers of dead bats. If you encounter either situation, please call Alan Hicks at the NYSDEC as soon as possible (cell 518-451-4632, office 518-402-8854).
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Re: Fungus serious threat to NE bats

Postby tncaver » Jan 11, 2008 7:58 pm

This really look serious. The number of bats being infected is huge. I will definitely keep
my eyes open for any bats with the white nose or any obvious loss of bats in a cave.
I hope it is confined to a small area and a cure or remedy can be found for the bats in
the areas that are showing signs of this new malady.
This malady needs to be stopped if possible. I hope bat specialists are investigating
the medical ramifications of this under a microscope. :hairpull:
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Re: Fungus serious threat to NE bats

Postby John Chenger » Jan 11, 2008 9:17 pm

A bit of new info from preliminary pathology exams is available (post by George Dasher, probably written by Craig Stihler):
Photos at: http://www.batmanagement.com/cgi-bin/ya ... 773599/0#2

Last winter, “white-nosed” bats were found in four caves in New
York, and were associated with high levels of bat mortality (over 8,000
dead bats). The “white noses” appear to be caused by a fungus, and this
appears to be the first time this syndrome has been observed anywhere.
The bats that have been observed with this condition so far are bats in
the genus Myotis-little brown bats, northern long-eared bats, and Indiana
bats.

The fungus has been identified to the genus Fusarium, a common
and widespread genus usually associated with plants. Pathologists that
have examined the carcasses recovered from the New York sites do not
believe the fungus is the main culprit. One guess at this time is that
the fungus invades after the bats are stressed by some other factor. The
fungus does not appear to be in the lungs of the bats. Dead bats found
in these caves have no remaining body fat. It may be that the bats try
to maintain a high body temperature in an effort to fight off some sort
of infection and eventually starve to death.

Not much is known about this syndrome, but it could have a severe
impacts on populations of cave bats. Bats with the “white nose syndrome”
were observed in New York again in January 2008, so this is not a problem
that has gone away. If you observe any “white-nosed” bats in West
Virginia caves (or large numbers of dead and dying bats) please report
them to:

Craig Stihler
West Virginia Department of Natural Resources
P.O. Box 67
Elkins, West Virginia 26241
304-637-0245



If you see such bats in caves in other states, please report them
to the appropriate state agencies. No one knows how this disease is
spread, so to be safe, please do whatever you can to clean and disinfect
you gear before entering another cave if you encounter this condition.
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Re: Fungus serious threat to NE bats

Postby graytail » Jan 15, 2008 1:06 pm

How contageous is this? If a caver has been in one of the infected caves, could he/she be carrying spores on their clothing or boots, thereby contaminating caves they may subsequently visit? If so, perhaps a self-imposed moratorium may be in order.

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Re: Fungus serious threat to NE bats

Postby NZcaver » Jan 22, 2008 10:01 pm

Just received from NY state Dept of Environmental Conservation, with instructions to circulate...

White Nose Syndrome
Decontamination Procedures


The Department of Environmental Conservation is asking that cavers please follow these procedures for decontamination. At this point this is only a request but the caving community can help in the effort to hopefully control this mysterious White Nose Syndrome. We are doing this to prevent what could be a continent wide spread of a previously unidentified pathogen to all caves and mines, and all our cave dwelling bat populations in the east. We do not yet know what is happening, or why, but it could be extremely serious, and we have to assume that it is until we can prove otherwise.

• Remove your caving gear when you get to the vehicle and put it in a closed plastic bag to prevent contamination of the trunk.

• Wash caving clothes using hot water, detergent and a normal bleach cycle.

• Dry the clothes thoroughly and dry them at hot temperatures.

• Scrape the dirt from boots and soak them in a bleach solution -porous boots longer than nonporous boots. (could find no specified periods for soaking).

• Do not forget cave packs or helmets/ (lights)

• Sunlight can also kill many things that live in dark places.

There is the real possibility of some caves being closed. Exit strategy for the cave closures are as follows: 1. We determine that the cause of death is something that people simply could not be spreading. 2. We can determine that decontamination protocols are sufficient to prevent the spread.

In the near future the DEC maybe conducting a survey to gather information for a caver database that will indicate all of your cave visits from the past several years.

If you are in a cave and see a bat (living or dead) with this White Nose Syndrome please contact Al Hicks of the DEC right away. If you find a dead bat outdoors or notice different behavior of bats please contact Al as well.

Alan Hicks
Mammal Specialist
Endangered Species Unit
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
625 Broadway, 5th floor
Albany, NY 12233-4754
(518)-402-8854 Cell (518)-461-46321/18/2008


It should also be noted that this White Nose Syndrome has just recently been sighted in a popular Vermont cave. Apparently about one-quarter to one-third of the estimated one thousand hibernating bats may have been affected in that cave.

Reminds me of the old discussion about contaminating other caves by not washing your dirty suit, and the people who scoffed at the very idea of cleaning their caving garments.

Hmmm... :shrug:
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Re: Fungus serious threat to NE bats

Postby JasonD » Jan 23, 2008 9:13 am

From Traci Hemberger (KY) and Greg Turner (PA) this morning:

"White-nose" syndrome

FYI for anyone in the eastern US caving who happens upon hibernating bats or dead bats with an obvious white fungus on the face please report it to the appropriate state reps listed below (or me as I can forward trip reports to the appropriate biologist).

This "white nose" problem could be a big problem and more reports from cavers are needed to determine if it is localized. Remember, only a small fraction of caves and mines are visited by biologists each year, and some states don't even have a bat program. So many years could go by and some bat hiber sites could be wiped out for no apparent reason if some attempt isn't made to understand it quickly.

The photo attached http://www.batmanagement.com/cgi-bin/ya ... 773599/0#0 is the only known symptom, but it is rather obvious. Right-click the photo and open in a new window to see the entire image at once.

From Greg Turner (PA):

It appears that our hibernating bats have a severe new threat just north of our border, and via personal communications I have had with AL Hicks, only a handful of NY sites were even checked last year. Very little is known beyond what is found in this email, but we need to be very vigilant and if any evidence of this found in PA (or elsewhere), I would greatly appreciate being notified ASAP.

There appears to be no human related illnesss that this can cause, but understand that this aspect is really not investigated, just anecdotal since none of the NY cavers or biologists have contracted anything noticable. The spread of this fungus could occur naturally (via bats), but also be something that could be spread by recreational caving, and we must be vigilant to clean our gear if visiting any NY caves, or have anyone from NY visiting our caves. I have a few of the NY photographs if anyone would like to have them.

One last note, the mortality event that occurred in Sharer cave last spring (March 2007) was concluded to be a drowning event, and not related to this fungus.

I thank everyone for their efforts in surveying sites and hopefully this episode will end in near future and not infect our populations!

Yours in caving......

Greg Turner
Endangered Mammal Specialist
Wildlife Diversity Section
Pennsylvania Game Commission
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Re: Fungus serious threat to NE bats

Postby Cavemud » Jan 23, 2008 11:13 am

How are the bat biologists gonna figger this one out? :laughing: After all, there are some who will tell you your cave gate isn't "bat friendly" while there are bats landing on it and crawling through...then flying off. After I was told our gate wasn't bat friendly, the bat population grew by leaps and bounds! :bananabat: Now the bat people don't want to come back cuz they can't find the Indiana or the Keens or whatever. Mention "Indiana bat" and watch em jump! Seems to me that's all they're lookin fer....and remember all, it's just my opinion! :big grin:
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Re: Fungus serious threat to NE bats

Postby NZcaver » Jan 23, 2008 12:31 pm

Cavemud wrote:How are the bat biologists gonna figger this one out?

The bat biologists have been trying to "figger" this out, hence their recommendations for all cavers to keep their eyes open and to clean their gear before going from one cave to another - particularly if they are caving anywhere near the affected regions.

After all, there are some who will tell you your cave gate isn't "bat friendly" while there are bats landing on it and crawling through...then flying off. After I was told our gate wasn't bat friendly, the bat population grew by leaps and bounds! Now the bat people don't want to come back cuz they can't find the Indiana or the Keens or whatever. Mention "Indiana bat" and watch em jump! Seems to me that's all they're lookin fer....and remember all, it's just my opinion!

Most (if not all) of the caves currently known to contain bats affected by this fungus have no gates. Also, as mentioned earlier in an earlier post, it is important to note that the fungus has not yet been identified to species, or to its geographic origin.
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Re: Fungus serious threat to NE bats

Postby John Chenger » Jan 23, 2008 3:53 pm

A new cave in VT was reported by cavers as having the white nose death fungus. An archive of this issue's timeline is located here in the form of email updates. Perhaps it will be useful someday:

http://www.batmanagement.com/cgi-bin/ya ... 773599/0#7

New update via Al Hicks:

Greetings all,

For those of you that have not been in the loop, about 8,000 bats died last winter in 4 caves within a 12 km radius in the Albany NY area. We do not yet know what killed them. Far more than half of the known wintering bats at these sites died last winter (including apparently all 700 Indiana bats in Hailes Cave). Whatever "it" is kills lucifugus, sodalis, and septentrionalis, and may kill other species that are not typically abundant in these caves. Aside from the carcasses, the most obvious symptom, which occurs on some , but clearly not all the bats, is the white fungus around the muzzle of live bats, which is shown in the attached photographs. We also noticed that bats were concentrated far nearer the entrances of most kill sites that they normally are. We do not know what has caused these mortalities other than that most animals examined to date have exhausted their fat reserves. Neither do we know how "it" is transferred from cave to cave. We do know that it is spreading, in that it has been found in two new sites this year. These include Howes Cave (1/5/07) which is located within 11 km of last years sites, and Morris Cave, near Danby VT. Morris cave is about 110 km from the closest infected site in New York and is the most frequently visited cave in that state. It also appears that the problem has resurfaced in the only one of the original four sites that we have checked this year.

We have a number of pathology labs looking into this problem but we have no answers yet. I will keep you all posted.

In the mean time, I strongly suggest that you have your own staff and local caving communities be on the lookout for this problem, and that you consider closing important hibernacula to caving until we better understand what is going on and how we can deal with it. It does not take much of an imagination to envision this problem spreading quickly across the east and killing massive numbers of animals. I would really like to prevent that from happening.

Feel free to contact me at any time.

Al




Alan Hicks
Mammal Specialist
Endangered Species Unit
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
625 Broadway, 5th floor
Albany, NY 12233-4754
(518)-402-8854 Cell (518)-461-4632

From: "Michael Chu"
Date: January 21, 2008 5:38:58 PM EST
Subject: More white nose bats


I went to Morris Cave (VT) today on an RPI caving trip, and noticed that the bats there have the white nose syndrome too. Also, the majority of the bats were clustered around the entrance, with very few in the larger upper section of the cave where I usually see them.

I've attached pictures and a map of where I saw bats in the cave. The red dots are individual bats and the red areas are clusters of bats. The green circle is where I've seen bats before in the winter @Morris. One of the kids couldnt fit through the third pinch, so I helped take him out of the cave early--because of this I didnt go into the sand crawl, (hidden) stream passage area, or the lower section by the lake.

I would estimate that 1/4 to 1/3 of the bats have the white nose at Morris. Did not see any dead bats.

Mike


John Chenger
Bat Conservation and Management, Inc.
220 Old Stone House Road
Carlisle, Pennsylvania 17015
(717) 241-2228 (office and fax)
(814) 442-4246 (mobile)
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Re: Fungus serious threat to NE bats

Postby John Chenger » Jan 23, 2008 4:16 pm

:off topic:
Todd,
The purpose of the hiber surveys in PA is specifically to look for Ibats. So when one is reported those people "have" to jump-- it's their job. Some annual monitoring sites are done every other year. Some others are done maybe every 10 years or so. Others are never visited again. Some are "high risk" and are visited more than others...say large caves with lots of bats next to quarries or highways or something. Once in while new sites are reported so the schedule gets bumped around more. Longcock Cave falls into the 10 year rotation or so...especially since cavers manage it so well, it has a couple of surveys, not much else to do there. Sure it'd be great to have a bigger gate, but since there was hardly a hole there before you dug it open, the gate is probably better for bats now than the original hole was naturally. I doubt I would advocate a bigger gate though... a bigger entrance, while bats might like it better, is not necessarily great for the cave itself. I can discuss "bat friendly" gates all day, but this thread is really about the fungus and I've already rambled way off. :sorry:
JC
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Re: Fungus serious threat to NE bats

Postby wyandottecaver » Jan 23, 2008 6:11 pm

:off topic:
cavemud,

any gate a bat has to crawl through is not bat friendly. that doesn't mean the bats wont use it, won't like the cave, or even increase in number. But I have personally watched rat snakes, cats, owls and raccoons repeatedly "guard" a cave gate at a major bat hibernacula (Wyandotte Cave, IN) and it was like a fast food restuarant anytime one stopped flying....unfortunately for the non-bat guests I lived on site and convinced them to find dinner elsewhere. This was a gate that the bats can fly through easily. if all the bats had to land and crawl through.....well you get the idea. so a gate that is non-bat friendly can be anything from impossible to inconvenient for bats.
I'm not scared of the dark, it's the things IN the dark that make me nervous. :)
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Re: Fungus serious threat to NE bats

Postby Cavemud » Jan 24, 2008 12:46 am

John Chenger wrote:The purpose of the hiber surveys in PA is specifically to look for Ibats.


Thanks for the clarification John...I'll let you know if we find any. :wink:

wyandottecaver wrote:any gate a bat has to crawl through is not bat friendly


Bats are cavers too! :bananabat:

:rofl:
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Re: Fungus serious threat to NE bats

Postby John Chenger » Jan 24, 2008 12:50 am

FYI, some powerful letters from Virgil Brack and Tom Kuntz, apologies if you have already seen these. I suspect this could end up with national attention. Given the hiber season is only another 3 months or less, this situation can't afford to go another year without being understood.



-----------

Open letter from Virgil Brack of Environmental Solutions & Innovations, Inc.:

23 January 2008



To everyone interested in bat conservation:

The White Nose Syndrome (WNS; aka White Death) scares the hell out of us. It has the potential to be the single most devastating impact on bats in North America that we have seen in recorded history, with the possible exception of the settling of this land by Europeans and subsequent habitat destruction. It is possible that this could be to bats what the chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease were to – well chestnut trees and elm trees. Perhaps less than coincidently, fungal diseases were responsible for the devastation of these species, although we are not sure that the fungus associated with the WNS is the cause or a symptom.

To date, the WNS has been found only in hibernacula of New York and Vermont, affecting hibernating bats (Indiana, little brown, and northern long-eared bats), but we do not known whether it may affect other cavern-dwelling bats at other times of year. Potentially it could affect species like gray, Virginia big-eared (and other subspecies), Brazilian free-tailed, southeaster, and cave bats.

Recently, the death of a “few” bats by vandalism in a single hibernaculum (the same habitat affected by WNS) garnered high visibility and substantial financial support from both public and private entities - for a past event. The action of WNS is on-going, already more deadly than the aforementioned vandalism, and in the future could be devastating, but has elicited little response or support. While we laud the effort to bring the vandals who killed bats to justice, we feel strongly that the current situation more merits funding and action.

Similarly, we laud the work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under auspices of the ESA, to avoid and minimize a take of endangered bats associated with individual developments, but the WNS seems far more likely to cause harm to listed species and unlisted species alike. Thus, we urge the USFWS, the premier organization for wildlife and endangered species in the United States, to allocate funding and resources to address this issue.

To begin to address this issue, we propose the following starting points.

1. Hibernacula Closure: until this fungus is understood, caves and mines containing large populations of hibernating bats of any species, including but

not necessarily limited to the Indiana, gray, Virginian big-eared, and little brown bats, should be closed to human traffic to help prevent the spread of WNS. Al Hicks (http://forums.caves.org/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=6083) has proposed measures to help prevent the spread of WNS among caves by individuals entering caves, but additional thoughts on the topic should be of value.

2. Education:
• Cavers need to understand why their rights to access caves have been restricted
• Federal and state agencies need to understand why they should close the caves and why it is so important they fund research in a timely manner to address this issue
• The public needs to understand how important this is to a healthy ecosystem

3. Funding:
• The USFWS is the primary agency responsible for endangered species, such as the Indiana bat, and it seems logical that an initial response to this situation should indeed be lead by them, including costs to initiate research and develop a concerted, comprehensive response strategy
• States should play a similar and supportive role to that of the USFWS
• Private entities, including individuals, conservation organizations, and companies who may contribute to conservation of caves, hibernacula, and endangered bats should add collectively to our understanding and resolution of the problem

To this end, Environmental Solutions & Innovations, Inc. is willing to contribute matching funds of up to $10,000 for donations by non-public entities to directly research and understand the cause, effect, and resolution of the WNS. The collection and administration of such funds must be determined, but logically should be through an entity such the Indiana State University, Center for North American Bat Research and Conservation. It is our hope and intent that the funds available for this effort far exceed the $20,000 potential, and that private and public funds are combined to do the most good.

Finally, on a personal note, we hope that our concern is overblown and that in a short time people are laughing at us for saying “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.” But until that proves to be the case, this, as we said, scares the hell out of us.



Virgil Brack, Jr.,
Taina M. Pankiewicz
Environmental Solutions & Innovations, Inc.


From Tom Kuntz:

Dear All,

I agree with All and Virgil that WNS potentially poses a dire situation for bats in the northeastern US, if not elsewhere in North America, especially it it spreads to other regions. I have spoken with Al regarding this matter, and have agreed to become involved directly in at least two and possibly three ways--we are prepared to lend the use of two thermal cameras to characterize the thermal profiles of hibernating bats this winter hat are and are not visibly afflicted with WNS and to analyze the body composition of a sample of bats with and without WNS. We could also do EM and SEM imaging of the faces of bats that have have WNS. This would be BU's contribution to what I expect will be a concerted effort to address this problem by as many of us as possible. As I understand from Al, someone from NYDNR is trying to identify the fungi that seems to be the cause of this syndrome. Virgil has made a generous offer to jump start additional funding for addressing this issue. I would be willing to explore additional funding from USFWS folks in the northeastern regional office. Perhaps BCI could also commit some funds for this project. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend the SEBWR/NEBWG meeting in February, but my graduate student Jon Reichard will be there and will work closely with Al and others do the thermal imaging and body composition analysis of bats in NY State this winter.

Tom

White Nose Syndrome email archive: http://www.batmanagement.com/cgi-bin/ya ... 1199773599


John Chenger
Bat Conservation and Management, Inc.
220 Old Stone House Road
Carlisle, Pennsylvania 17015
(717) 241-2228 (office and fax)
(814) 442-4246 (mobile)
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