By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Researchers have confirmed the presence of a deadly bat disease in bats at Devils Tower National Monument.
While this is the first time “white-nose syndrome” has been identified in the the state, the fungus that causes WNS was potentially detected in southeast Wyoming as early as 2018, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Biologists from the University of Wyoming discovered evidence of WNS during surveys in early May, when they captured bats and took samples to test for the fungus.
The samples were sent to the Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, where they detected the presence of the fungus on four of the 19 bats tested. Two species, a northern-long eared bat and a fringed myotis, showed visible signs of WNS.
The presence of WNS in Wyoming is not a surprise for wildlife managers, since the disease was confirmed in the Black Hills in South Dakota in 2018, and more recently in a dead bat found in Fallon County, Montana, in April.
“The spread of white-nose syndrome into northeastern Wyoming is disheartening and frustrating,” said Devils Tower Chief of Resources Management Russ Cash. “The devastation that white-nose syndrome brings to bat populations is terrifying. Bats are such an important piece of our ecosystem and our well-being as humans. Bats devour unbelievable amounts of insects and pests that are a nuisance to humans.”
Detection of WNS at Devils Tower demonstrates the continued spread of this deadly disease, which has killed millions of bats in North America since the fungus first appeared in 2006 in New York.
Scientists believe humans may have unintentionally brought the fungus from Eurasia to the U.S.
Wyoming is the 37th state to confirm the disease, which has also been found in seven Canadian provinces.
The fungus that causes this disease is primarily spread through direct contact between bats. However, people can spread the fungus when using clothes, footwear and gear that has been used at infected bat roosts, such as caves or rock crevices.
The best way to reduce the risk of spread is to stay out of closed caves and mines; use site-dedicated footwear, clothing and gear; and clean and disinfect these items before and after visiting caves and other places where bats live.
If a person sees a sick or dead bat, they should report it to park rangers or Game and Fish biologists, but should not touch or pick up the bat.