The U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin has confirmed that bats from two Pendleton County caves submitted for testing by Division of Natural Resources wildlife biologists have the condition known as White-nose Syndrome.
This condition has killed thousands of cave bats in the Northeast, and the affected sites in West Virginia are currently the southernmost sites where WNS has been observed.
White-nose Syndrome is named for the white fungus which is often observed on the muzzles, wings and ears of affected bats. Although there may be several factors contributing to the condition known as White-nose Syndrome, the invasion of skin cells by a specific fungus is a consistent observation in all cases.
The fungus, a member of the genus Geomyces, was cultured from the West Virginia bats. Genetic data indicate the fungus is identical to that cultured for other WNS-positive bats. Microscopic examination of the bats’ skin provided evidence that the fungi had invaded the cells of the skin in all three species submitted: little brown bats, eastern pipistrelles, and northern long-eared bats.
“This winter, DNR biologists have conducted bat surveys in Grant, Hardy, Randolph and Tucker counties as well as Pendleton County,” says DNR biologist Craig Stihler. “To date, WNS has only been observed in Pendleton County. However, only a small number of caves have been visited in each county.”
It seems likely that the most common way this condition is spread is from bat to bat. However, because the fungus associated with WNS can live in cave soils, it may be possible for cavers to spread WNS in cave dirt on their clothing and gear.
DNR Wildlife Resources biologists ask cavers to clean and disinfect all gear between caving trips both within the state and between states. Guidelines for disinfecting gear and additional information on white-nose syndrome can be found on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Website. Cavers are also asked to avoid entering some of the most important bat caves in the state to minimize the introduction to these sites. A list of closed caves is available online.
“Scientists at several laboratories across the country are looking for ways to fight WNS. This research will take time,” says Stihler. “Our best conservation strategy is to do whatever we can to slow the spread of WNS until a better solution is found.”