White-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease that is spreading rampantly through bat colonies across the United States, has now reached the endangered gray bat (Myotis grisescens) according to Reuters. Government scientists fear that the disease could have devastating consequences for the species; about 95 percent of the gray bat population is located in only eight caves; two in Tennessee, three in Missouri and one cave each in Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas.
Since WNS was first discovered in 2006, more than 5.5 million bats have succumbed to it. Its emergence in gray bats marks the second federally protected species afflicted with WNS thus far, and the seventh species affected overall. WNS is currently documented in 19 states and four Canadian provinces.
News of the latest outbreak coincides with a federal lawsuit filed on May 16 by the Center for Biological Diversity against the U.S. Forest Service which demands that the agency more fully disclose its plans of action to protect bat species throughout the Northern Rockies. National forests officials in Montana, Idaho, and the Dakotas are also pursuing cave and mine closures throughout the states as a means of reducing WNS outbreaks, as it can be spread by spores that cling on to clothes, boots, and equipment that come into contact with other caves inhabited by WNS-plagued bats. Hopefully such proactive measures will help to curb any further loses to remaining bat populations.