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Fighting a Fatal Fungus to Save Bats

Bat Infected with white-nose syndrome / Photo Credit: USDWL-Southern Region

Are Missouri’s bats in danger? A disease that has killed over five million in the north eastern United States has been confirmed in northern Arkansas. KSMU’s Shannon Bowers reports on efforts to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome.

Five northern long-eared bats were found dead earlier this month in a cave in Marion County, Arkansas, and have since tested positive for the fatal disease.

Francis Skalicky with the Missouri Department of Conservation says fighting white-nose syndrome starts with fighting the fungus that causes it.

“It was discovered in a single New York cave in 2006 and since then it has spread south and westward…it has been found in 23 states. The bad news about it being found in Arkansas is that it is a sign that the disease is still spreading,” said Skalicky.

Last summer, low levels of the fungus that cause white-nose syndrome were found in two north Arkansas caves at Devil’s Den State Park and in Baxter County, which neighbors Marion County to the east.

In Missouri, the Department of Conservation is attempting to prevent the spread of the fungus by limiting access to some state caves.

 “One of the factors that are causing it, we found, is human traffic. Humans carry these fungal spores from one cave to the next and that’s the way this disease gets established in another cave,” said Skalicky.

While the disease does not pose a threat to humans, pets or livestock, bats are extremely important in agriculture, Skalicky says, acting as a predator to pests that can cause havoc to crops. They also are great pollinators. It is estimated that the monetary value bats contribute to Missouri agriculture is about $900 million.  

There have been multiple confirmed cases of the fungus in the state’s caves. So far, however, no bats have tested positive for white-nose syndrome in southwest Missouri.

For KSMU News, I’m Shannon Bowers.