News from the DNR Office of Communications

White-Nose Syndrome Found In Bats Hibernating In Garrett County Cave

Annapolis, Md. (April 14, 2011) - Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologists have confirmed that White-nose Syndrome (WNS) has been found in a cave in Garrett County, the third documented case of the disease in Maryland. This cave serves as an important winter shelter or “hibernaculum” for hundreds of bats. WNS is a disease causing unprecedented bat mortality across the eastern United States. Affected bats display a white fungus on their muzzles or other exposed skin.

“This is the second new infected site we’ve documented this year,” said Dan Feller, DNR’s Western Region Ecologist. “We now have positive sites in all three Maryland counties with bat hibernacula.”

A survey by volunteer biologists from Frostburg State University, working under the direction of DNR, discovered the newly infected population. Three Little Brown Bats and one Tricolored Bat submitted to the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center tested positive for WNS.

At an infected site discovered last year in Allegany County, virtually all of the bats were dead, a level of devastation similar to other affected sites in the Northeast. WNS was found in Washington County last month.

“We’re relieved that our surveys found several important hibernating sites still unaffected, including one of the largest populations of eastern Small-Footed Bats remaining in the United States,” said Feller. “But with the spread of this disease having been fast and unrelenting, the future of these sites is uncertain.”

WNS is a disease that has spread across mines and caves in 14 states and two Canadian provinces, killing more than a million bats. It was first observed at Howe Cave near Albany, NY in 2006. WNS is caused by a newly discovered cold-weather fungus, Geomyces destructans.

Under the direction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an international, interagency team is mobilizing to slow the spread and find a cure to WNS. It has been shown that bats can transmit the fungus to each other. And although the disease is not harmful to people, it may be possible for cavers to spread the fungus through gear and clothing. State and Federal wildlife authorities have asked that people not enter caves. DNR biologists and volunteers investigating WNS follow strict decontamination protocols when working in caves and other bat hibernacula.

Recent research conservatively estimates the value of bats to the U.S. agricultural industry to be $3.7 billion because they eat agricultural pests. Their value to ecology is more complex and harder to measure.

“This level of devastation to our bats is unprecedented and tragic,” said Tim Larney, Habitat Conservation Program Manager for DNR’s Wildlife and Heritage Service. “And it comes at a time when new research indicates that we may have been underestimating the importance of bats in keeping ecosystems healthy and productive.”

For additional information on white-nose syndrome, visit http://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/plants_wildlife/bats/nhpbatdisease.asp.


   April 14, 2011

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 is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages more than 461,000 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