White-nose syndrome confirmed in bats at Bat Cave Preserve, Rutherford County

Press release from
the Nature Conservancy

DURHAM – The Nature Conservancy today announced that white-nose syndrome, which has decimated bat populations in eastern North America, has been confirmed in a bat found last month at the Conservancy’s Bat Cave Preserve in Rutherford County.

White-nose syndrome was first identified in the winter of 2006-2007 in upstate New York. It has spread to 19 U.S. states and 4 Canadian provinces. It is estimated that bat populations have declined by 80 percent in the affected areas. Infected bats have also been identified in Avery, McDowell, Haywood, Yancey and Transylvania counties. Investigators from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and The Nature Conservancy found the infected bat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed the disease.

The disease gets its name from a white fungus, which is found around muzzles, ears and wing membranes of infected bats. The fungus, Geomyces destructans, grows at low temperatures and high humidity – making hibernating bats the perfect victims. Infected bats behave oddly – moving toward the mouth of caves and flying when they should be hibernating. It is believed that activity uses up fat that sustains bats during their winter hibernation. Many infected bats are found to be emaciated as a result.

European researchers have observed bats with similar white growths that remain healthy. Research is ongoing to determine if the European and North American bats have been infected by the same organism and whether the exotic nature of the organism in North America has led to the high mortality rates.

Bats are an underappreciated, yet very important, mammal. Worldwide there are nearly one thousand species of bats, accounting for close to a quarter of all mammals. They are vital to insect control and pollination. It is likely that the affected species in North Carolina – Indiana Bat, Little Brown Bat, Eastern Pipistrelle, Townsend’s big-eared bat, Eastern Small-Footed bat, and Rafinesque’s big-eared bat – will be dramatically affected by the disease because they are long-lived and give birth to a single baby (called pups) each year. The Conservancy closed the caves at its Bat Cave Preserve in 2010 in an effort to protect bats. The caves will remain closed until further notice.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 18 million acres in the United States and have helped preserve more than 117 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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