Bats here, disease not

Bats here, disease not

Posted: Thursday, February 10, 2011 9:06 pm

By KEVIN BOWDEN
Staff Reporter
Bats do exist in this area, but apparently a new bat disease does not.
Wildlife specialists from New York down to North Carolina are keeping a watchful eye on reported cases of what is being called white-nose syndrome.
The disease has killed hundreds of thousands of bats in the eastern United States, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The disease has now been documented in a retired Avery County mine and in a cave at Grandfather Mountain State Park, both in North Carolina. The two documented cases mark the arrival of the bat disease in North Carolina.
“White-nose syndrome is confirmed in Virginia and Tennessee, so we expected we would be one of the next states to see the disease,” said Gabrielle Graeter, a biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. “This discovery marks the arrival of one of the most devastating threats to bat conservation in our time.”
A news conference was held in Asheville, N.C., Wednesday afternoon to explain the significance of the two documented white-nose syndrome cases.
Locally, there are bats in the Reelfoot Lake area and across Obion County but they are tree-dwelling bats.
“As far as I know, it (white-nose syndrome) has never been documented in the tree hibernating species,” said David Haggard, a regional naturalist for the Tennessee State Parks.
He said he received an e-mail last fall from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting help with how to survey bat populations in the state and how to document the disease. Haggard said he responded saying he didn’t know of an accurate method to survey the local bat population.
Haggard told The Messenger he believes there are probably several thousand tree-dwelling bats in the Reelfoot Lake region, but said that is a “relatively small” population and said “that’s just a guess on my part.”
He said there are numerous tree-dwelling bats all up and down the Mississippi River bottoms.
According to a news release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, scientists have yet to fully understand white-nose syndrome. It is believed to be caused by a newly-discovered fungus — Geomyces destrucans — which often grows into white tufts on the muzzles of infected bats.
The first evidence of the fungus was collected in a cave about 40 miles west of Albany, N.Y., in 2006 and since then it has spread north into Canada and as far south as Tennessee, which reported its first occurrence in upper East Tennessee in February 2010.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports finding sick, dying and dead bats in unprecedented numbers in and around caves and mines from New Hampshire to Tennessee. From the fall of 2009 to the spring of 2010, there have been suspected white-nose syndrome cases in four areas across Tennessee, according to the wildlife agency.
Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by e-mail at kmbowden@ucmessenger.com.

Published in The Messenger 2.10.11

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