Surveillance for white-nose syndrome and the fungus that causes the bat disease found bats in seven counties – Adair, Cherokee, Delaware, LeFlore, Ottawa, Sequoyah, and Woodward counties – have been infected to date.
The fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, was first detected in New York in the winter of 2006–2007 and had spread to Oklahoma by the winter of 2014–2015.
Bats play an important ecological role; each bat can eat up to 3,000 insects, including mosquitoes and agricultural pests, in a single night. Biologists are concerned how white-nose syndrome will affect Oklahoma bat populations in the future.
White-nose syndrome is named for the white fungal growth often observed around the nose of infected bats. This fungal growth on the muzzles and wings of hibernating bats is suspected to irritate the bats, waking them when food resources – namely insects – are minimal. The wakened bats may not be able to find enough food to survive the winter. There are no known human health implications associated with white-nose syndrome.
Partners in Oklahoma bat conservation swabbed more than 200 bats in 12 limestone caves and six gypsum caves during this year’s bat disease surveillance efforts. The bulk of samples were sent for analysis to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin.
Updates from Oklahoma Caves and Neighboring States
• The fungus associated with white-nose syndrome was detected in a LeFlore County cave managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The fungus was visible on individual bats representing four species, including the endangered Indiana bat and threatened northern long-eared bat. Based on clinical signs in the bat population and the detection of the fungus, LeFlore County is now classified “white-nose syndrome suspect.”
• A sample from a tri-colored bat in a Woodward County cave managed by the University of Central Oklahoma tested positive for the fungus although none of the bats present showed signs of the disease this winter.
• The disease, and first observance of bat mortality associated with white-nose syndrome in Oklahoma, was detected this past winter in a Delaware County cave managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect federally listed bats. The fungus was first identified in Delaware County in the winter of 2014–2015 at a privately owned cave and bats in this cave developed visible signs for the disease in the winter of 2016–2017.
• The disease was confirmed for the first time in Adair County in a second cave managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Adair County first tested positive for the fungus in the winter of 2015–2016.
• A federally endangered Ozark big-eared bat in Adair County was one of several species at a hibernaculum testing positive for the fungus. The bat did not show signs of disease. While the fungus has previously been detected on closely related subspecies found in other parts of the nation, this represents the first detection of the fungus on an Ozark big-eared bat. No known white-nose syndrome-caused mortality has occurred in big-eared bats across the United States.
• The disease was first documented in Cherokee and Barber counties in Kansas this winter. (Cherokee County, Kansas is adjacent to Ottawa County, Oklahoma; Barber County, Kansas is adjacent to Woods County, Oklahoma).
• The fungus was recently detected in Newton County, Missouri (adjacent to Ottawa County, Oklahoma). The fungus was first detected in Missouri in the winter of 2009–2010 and the disease confirmed in the winter of 2011–2012.
More information about Oklahoma’s bats and tips for preventing the spread of the fungus and disease can be found at wildlifedepartment.com.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has been a part of the national white-nose syndrome response since 2010, along with Rogers State University, University of Central Oklahoma, University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State Parks, caving organizations, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Biologists from Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism also assisted with this winter’s surveillance.