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No signs of white-nose syndrome in Michigan bats

A recently completed statewide survey of 33 known bat wintering sites in Michigan showed no sign of white-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease that kills bats by causing them to burn up energy reserves prematurely during hibernation.

The Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) wildlife division, with Dr. Allen Kurta and Steve Smith of Eastern Michigan University, conducted extensive surveillance this winter of major bat hibernation sites (caves and abandoned mines) across the state.

The invasive fungus geomyces destructans (GD) that causes WNS has spread rapidly and widely from the original 2006 outbreak site in eastern New York and is now found in 22 states and five Canadian provinces. WNS was recently confirmed in northern Illinois. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates more than 6.7 million bats from six different species have died from the disease. Mortality from WNS has reached nearly 98 percent in affected sites.

Nine species of bats can be found in Michigan, but cave-dwelling bats such as little brown bats, big brown bats, tricolored bats, northern long-eared bats and federally endangered Indiana bats are at the greatest risk from WNS. These species all gather in large concentrations in caves and abandoned mines to overwinter, where the cold temperatures that normally would help them conserve body fat stores during hibernation may now be part of their undoing.

The fungus that causes WNS grows only in these cold conditions. Research indicates it persists in the environment for long periods. It can be moved from place to place by humans as well as the bats themselves. No known human health risks are associated with WNS, and no other wildlife species are known to be impacted.

All the Michigan species of bats are highly beneficial insectivores and consume large amounts of insects that cause agricultural crop loss, damage forests and can affect human health. Recent research estimates that the economic pest-control benefit that insect-eating bats provide to Michigan’s agriculture industry is $508 million annually.

Visit www.michigan.gov/emergingdiseases for more information on WNS, to view the Michigan WNS Response Plan or to report unusual bat observations.

(Note: This report is provided as a service to our readers from a press release submitted to eastvillagemagazine.org. It has been edited to conform to AP and local style. The originator of the release is responsible for all information provided.)

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