News from the DNR Office of Communications

Bat Disease Found In Western Maryland Cave

White-Nose Syndrome is likely cause

Annapolis, MD (March 10, 2010) — Several dead bats and over two hundred visibly affected bats were found during a survey conducted in an Allegany County cave near Cumberland on March 5. The bats observed during the survey exhibited a white fungus concentrated around the muzzle of the infected bats. The findings are consistent with White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) and if confirmed, this will be Maryland’s first documented occurrence of the disease.

“Many biologists suspect that the WNS fungus, Geomyces destructans, is a non-native pathogen recently introduced to the United States,” said Dana Limpert, DNR Wildlife and Heritage Service ecologist and bat expert. “Fortunately WNS is not known to be harmful to humans. Unfortunately there is no known cure for bats infected with the disease, so our priority is preventing the spread of this deadly syndrome to other bat caves or hibernacula.”

WNS, likely spread by contact among bats and their environment, is a disease suspected of killing more than a million bats in the northeastern United States. Bat carcasses and fungal samples were sent to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis. for verification. Positive laboratory confirmation of the fungus is expected to take several weeks.

The disease has been documented in caves and mines where large numbers of bats hibernate. The disease has not been found in bats that use buildings or other man-made structures. Based on its distribution in the northeastern states, WNS in Maryland is only expected to occur in the mountainous parts of the State where caves occur. It is not expected to be found in metropolitan environments.

“It is unclear how this cave became infected but there is evidence from other locations in the Northeast that cavers may be a source for spreading the WNS fungus,” said Dan Feller, the DNR ecologist who discovered the dead bats. “Cavers are generally responsible outdoor enthusiasts, but contaminated clothing and gear may inadvertently transmit spores into new areas, potentially impacting vital bat populations. We will begin immediately to elicit support from the local caving community to help us limit the spread of this disease.”

WNS was first discovered in a cave near Albany, N.Y. in February 2006. It has been confirmed or suspected in 10 states in the eastern U.S. from New Hampshire to Tennessee. Since 2006, biologists across the Northeast have reported as much as a 100% decline in hibernating bats in affected caves.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requests that cavers refrain from caving in all WNS affected states and adjoining states. And cavers should refrain from caving anywhere during the hibernation period (September – May) to minimize disturbance and mortality to bats.

DNR biologists, following strict protocols established by the Northeastern WNS Working Group, will continue their monitoring efforts to determine if any other hibernation sites are affected in the state. Additional information on white-nose syndrome can be found at: http://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/bats/nhpbatdisease.asp.


   March 10, 2010

Contact: Josh Davidsburg
410-260-8002 office I 410-507-7526 cell
jdavidsburg@dnr.state.md.us

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009, is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages more than 467,000 acres of public lands and 17,000 miles of waterways, along with Maryland's forests, fisheries, and wildlife for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, DNR-managed parks and natural, historic, and cultural resources attract 12 million visitors annually. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. Learn more at www.dnr.maryland.gov