White Nose Syndrome
Vectors of spread:
Spores: White, powdery fungus. It can be found on affected bats around the muzzle, on the ears, wings, limbs, and/or tail.
Symptoms of White Nose Syndrome in bats:
- Poor body condition (weak/ thin, dehydrated)
- Flying outside during daylight
- Waking from hibernation uncharacteristically early
- Increased activity during winter months
- Clustering near entrances of caves or other hibernation areas
- Excessive or unexplained mortality during winter hibernation
White Nose Syndrome can be deadly to hibernating bats, as it penetrates the tissues of the mouth, nose and/or wings, which are vital to a bat’s ability to avoid dehydration and maintain body temperature. If affected during hibernation, bats awaken too early and must deal with unfavourable weather conditions.
Reproduction: Pseudogymnaoascus destructans produces spores and hyphae and is therefore capable of asexual reproduction through spores and hyphal fragmentation.
Habitat and Origin
Origin: Research as to the exact origins of White Nose Syndrome or Pseudogymnaoascus destructans (Pd), has been inconclusive. It is believed that the fungus originates from Eurasia, but specifics are unknown. In 2007, biologists first discovered sick and dying bats in a cave near Albany, New York. This became the first officially documented case of White Nose Syndrome in North America, however, there is evidence dating to 2006 from a group of cave-divers who photographed bats with white powder on their noses.
Habitat: Pd grows in cold, dark, damp places such as caves and mines, which bats usually inhabit.
Propagation and Vectors of Spread
Biologists believe that the most common vector of spread is by healthy bats coming into contact with infected ones, or by touching surfaces that have Pd spores on them. Human-mediated transmission is also likely, when humans enter a cave, mine, etc. where the fungus is present and continue onto a new cave where Pd had not previously been introduced.
Pd spores can stay alive on clothing, shoes, and equipment for extended periods of time, which creates the potential for the fungus to spread from cave to cave. Pd spores do not need bats to grow, so the fungus can live in a hibernation area even after the bats have left.
Economic and Ecological Impacts
- Considered one of the worst wildlife diseases in modern times, having killed millions of bats across North America.
- Once a bat is infected by White Nose Syndrome, recovery is not possible.
- White Nose Syndrome in bats, resulting in a decrease in population, can negatively impact the ecosystem because:
- Bats provide a nutritional link between caves and outdoor ecosystems; and
- They are the only major predator of mosquitoes and other night pests.
- Bats are critical to their ecosystem because they control insect pest species that attack agricultural crops.
What Can I Do?
If visiting a cave or mine where bats are known to be living, basic decontamination is essential: wipe down equipment, cameras, bottles, flashlights, soles of boots, backpacks, or anything that may have been exposed to Pd with antifungal wipes.
Stay out of closed caves or areas where bats may be present.
Report dead or injured bats to conservation officers, forest services, or local wildlife authorities.
If you are located in the Sea to Sky, please refer to the Squamish River Watershed Society’s BatPack Resource Kit, available at the Squamish Public Library.
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-10/ufs–rms103018.php
BC Bats, https://www.bcbats.ca/
Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, http://www.cwhc-rcsf.ca/wns.php
Emma Hiolski from the American Chemical Society, https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acscentsci.8b00153
National Park Services, https://www.nps.gov/cuga/planyourvisit/upload/correct-wns-brochure.pdf
USDA Forest Services White Nose Syndrome Organization, https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/mmedia-education/white-nose-syndrome-fact-sheet-june-2018
The Wildlife Society, https://wildlife.org/seeking-the-origin-of-white-nose-syndrome/
Map Reference: http://www.cwhc-rcsf.ca/surveillance_data_wns.php