Three bats collected in Des Moines County were confirmed to have white-nose syndrome (WNS). Two little brown bats and one northern long-eared bat observed near a cave entrance showed visible signs of WNS during monitoring for the disease. The USGS-National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin confirmed that the bats had WNS.
Pseudogymnoascus destructans (P. d.), the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, was also detected on additional samples collected from the cave, which as recently as February 2014 had no visual signs of WNS. WNS was also confirmed in four little brown bats collected in Van Buren County this winter after a concerned citizen reported bats flying around outside.
P. d. had previously been detected in caves at Maquoketa Caves State Park in 2011, 2012, and 2013, but it was not detected in the last two winters.
The Iowa DNR conducted routine monitoring and surveillance at other sites and is investigating an unconfirmed report of possible WNS in another county. Additional samples are still being analyzed by the National Wildlife Health Center.
The confirmation of WNS in Iowa is not a surprise. Monitoring found P.d. in the state in 2011 and the DNR took steps to help delay the arrival of the disease through seasonal cave closures and public education about decontamination procedures to prevent transporting the fungus between sites. The caves at Maquoketa Caves State Park remain seasonally open.
WNS affects bats during hibernation. Bats awaken more often and use up fat reserves needed for survival through winter. They may also emerge from hibernation too early and starve or freeze to death. Mortality rates for little brown and northern long-eared bats have exceeded 95 percent in infected caves in other states.
Bats are crucial to a healthy ecosystem. They eat insects that can damage agricultural crops, saving us at least $3 billion annually in pest suppression services. The five bat species known to use caves in Iowa are susceptible to WNS; little brown, big brown, Indiana, tri-colored, and northern long-eared bats. Indiana and northern long-eared bats receive protection by the U .S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under the Endangered Species Act.
WNS is not known to pose a threat to humans, pets, or livestock. It is transmitted primarily from bat to bat, but fungal spores may be inadvertently carried to caves by humans on clothing and caving gear. Iowa citizens can help bats by following all decontamination requirements if entering caves and continuing to avoid disturbing bats, especially during hibernation.
Iowans can also help bats by volunteering to monitor bat populations in the state. Acoustic monitoring surveys that rely on recording bat echolocation calls are an efficient way to monitor bat populations to identify areas of high bat activity in Iowa. Volunteers are needed in Boone, Clayton, Dubuque, Hamilton, Hardin, Jackson, Lucas, Marshall, Story, and Warren counties. For more information visit the DNR website at www.iowadnr.gov/volunteerwildlifemonitoring/ or email the Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program at firstname.lastname@example.org. The volunteer acoustic monitoring planned for this summer is funded by a WNS grant from the USFWS.
Do not touch or handle bats. If you see sick or dead bats, please report them to the DNR.
Additional information on white nose syndrome and bats is available at www.whitenosesyndrome.org, www.facebook.com/usfwswns and www.twitter.com/usfws_wns