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Little brown bat 

The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats has been discovered in North Dakota, the National Park Service says.

Swab testing of bats at Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site near Stanton identified the fungus on a little brown bat captured May 6. The fungus causes the deadly disease that appears as a white, powdery substance around the noses of bats. 

Thirty-three states have confirmed the disease since it was found in 2006 in New York, according to Catherine Hibbard, a wildlife refuge specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Four states, including North Dakota, have discovered only the fungus. South Dakota identified the fungus and disease for the first time in 2018.

The fungus can be transmitted by humans, who aren't affected by it, she added. Bats mainly contract the disease while hibernating, usually in cold, dark or humid places, she said.

"They're kind of like sitting ducks when the fungus gets them while they're just hibernating," Hibbard said.

Bats can die from dehydration or other conditions brought on by the disease. It's easily spread among bats, according to Ian Abernethy, who led the testing project as lead vertebrate zoologist at the University of Wyoming. The North Dakota bat likely migrated from some distance after encountering another bat or a place contaminated with the fungus.

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It's hard to say how many bats there are in North Dakota and how many could be affected, Abernathy said. Little research on bats has been done in the state, and they often go unnoticed due to their size and nocturnal activity. 

"Clearly the fungus is moving further west into areas where it hadn’t previously occurred," Abernethy said.

People can mitigate the spread of the fungus by decontaminating clothing, boots and equipment used when visiting caves, abandoned mines or similar places.

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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