White Nose Syndrome (WNS) is named for a white fungus found on the muzzles and wings of infected bats. Bats with White Nose Syndrome awaken often during hibernation and use up the fat reserves they need to last through the winter, causing them to freeze or starve to death. Because this bat “disease” can impact Texas bats, Executive Director Carter Smith has issued an executive order giving authority to close caves on Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) property to protect bats from the spread of White Nose Syndrome.
Though individual animals can spread the bat disease among themselves, there is evidence that humans coming from infected bat caves and roosts can transport the fungus as well. WNS “has caused the most precipitous wildlife decline in the past century in North America,” said John Hayes, chairman of the University of Florida Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. So can WNS be stopped?
Since 2006, when WNS was first discovered in a cave in New York, more than a million hibernating bats of eight species have been killed in 14 states. Five of those eight species also inhabit Texas, where more than 50 species of bats live. While WNS has not yet been detected in Texas, the disease was confirmed in Oklahoma last May. The little flying mammal is an important species in Texas, and the economic impact of bats in Texas is huge!
Currently, nothing can be done to stop the spread of WNS throughout the country’s bat population, but Texas is taking steps to keep people from unknowingly bringing anything into its wildlife management areas. I guess better safe than sorry.