In winter 2006-2007, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation biologists began getting calls about bats flying erratically outside their hibernacula during the day. The bats were supposed to remain in the hibernation areas until spring and the insects that sustain them returned. But they were leaving the caves in extreme cold, and some were dying.
Inside, biologists discovered that clustered, hibernating bats had moved near the entrance instead of farther in, where temperatures are more stable. There were also scores of dead bats, and a strange white substance on the noses of some still alive.
Since, white-nose syndrome has killed at least 5.7 million to 6.7 million bats, according to the latest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates. In some instances, entire cave populations have been lost. Species affected include the tri-colored bat (Perymyotis subflavus), little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus), Northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis), Southeastern myotis (Myotis austroriparius), small-footed myotis (Myotis leibii), cave myotis (Myotis velifer),and the federally endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) and gray bat (Myotis grisescens). All except the cave myotis are found in Georgia. The small-footed myotis is a state species of concern.
WNS was first found in Georgia in February 2013. The cause of white-nose is a cold-loving fungus, Geomyces destructans. The fungus was likely introduced into a U.S. cave from Europe.
With the syndrome spreading rapidly, the Fish and Wildlife Service called in March 2009 for a voluntary moratorium on caving and other cave activities in WNS-affected and adjacent states. The service also advised cavers elsewhere to avoid using clothing and gear that had been used in those states.
In Georgia, the Wildlife Resources Division has developed a response plan and weighed options for managing access to caves and mines on state lands. Researchers have also limited scientific activities in caves.
“Now that white-nose syndrome has been confirmed at sites in Georgia, it is more important than ever that cavers follow decontamination protocols and reduce their trips to Georgia caves,” said Katrina Morris, a wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Resources Division. "We encourage all cavers and researchers to continue to take this issue very seriously."
To report unusual bat die-offs or bats possibly suffering from white-nose. (Signs include white fungus on the muzzle, wings, ears or tail and bats flying outside during the day in temperatures at or below freezing.)
Or, if you have questions about white-nose syndrome.
Map of WNS spread