Environment
12:11 pm
Wed January 16, 2013

Deadly Bat Disease Found in Mammoth Cave National Park

White Nose Syndrome has been confirmed in Mammoth Cave National Park.

White Nose Syndrome is caused by a white fungus, and is deadly to bats. Since 2006, the fungus has been found in 21 states. The disease has killed more than 6 million bats in four Canadian provinces and 19 states, including Kentucky. Mammoth Cave has been taking steps to keep the fungus out of its caves--like making visitors walk over cleansing mats--but park superintendent Sarah Craighead confirmed the disease's presence today.

From the news release:

“It grieves me to make this announcement,” said Craighead.  “A northern long-eared bat, showing symptoms of white-nose syndrome, was found in Long Cave in the park.  The bat was euthanized on January 4 and sent for laboratory testing.  Those tests confirmed white-nose syndrome.”

Long Cave, an undeveloped cave 1.3 miles long, is the park’s largest bat hibernaculum and houses endangered Indiana bats and gray bats, along with other non-threatened species.  Long Cave is not connected to Mammoth Cave and has not been open to visitors for more than 80 years.

She notes that tours of Mammoth Cave will continue, because the spores are usually passed from bat to bat.

With this announcement, it seems the disease is moving further into Kentucky. State and federal wildlife officials are heavily invested in figuring White Nose Syndrome out, and eradicating it. I went out with state biologists nearly a year ago, as they looked for signs of the disease in bats in Meade County, and the Nature Conservancy in Tennessee is experimenting with an artificial cave that can be cleaned after bats finish hibernating (though there were no bats in in yet, as of last month). Now, the disease has been found in five Kentucky counties: Bell, Edmonson, Breckenridge, Trigg and Wayne counties.

But if bats keep dying, humans will start noticing. As Kentucky bat ecologist Brooke Hines told me last year, the species helps keep insect populations under control.

“[Bats] are a biological control. Nature’s pesticides, if you will. They’re considered one of the keystone species which means when we start to see populations of them declining for whatever reason, it starts to make biologists and ecologists go, ‘okay, I think there’s something going on with the ecosystem overall.’”

For more about White Nose Syndrome, click here.