The fungus that causes the deadly white-nose syndrome in hibernating bats has been detected in Texas, federal and state officials announced Thursday.
White-nose syndrome has led to the death of as many as 6 million bats in North America over the last decade, though scientists think non-hibernating bats, like those found beneath the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, are not susceptible to the disease.
Swabs taken from the wings of bats in caves in January and February in an area northeast of Lubbock were found last week to be positive for the fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans. The fungus thrives in cold, humid environments and invades the skin of bats, disrupting their hibernation and depleting their fat stores; white-nose syndrome is named for the spread of the fungus around the muzzle of the hibernating bats.
First discovered in New York in the winter of 2006-07, white-nose syndrome has spread quickly through the U.S. and Canada.
“There is still hope for bats in Texas,” Texas Parks and Wildlife Department state mammalogist Jonah Evans said. “The fungus thrives in colder climates and it remains to be seen if (white nose syndrome) will have the same serious impacts in Texas as it has in northern states.”
Twenty of the 32 species of bats in Texas do not regularly hibernate and “we are hopeful they will not suffer significant population declines.”
The officials said surveys in sites this year in Central Texas were negative for the fungus.
But non-hibernating species can still spread the fungus, and bat-watchers say the discovery of the fungus in Texas could foretell yet many more bat deaths.
“This discovery is significant because it occurs where the ranges of eastern, southern, and western bat species intersect, and two of these bats have extensive distributions in Central America and the West – beyond the current range of the disease,” said Jeremy Coleman, national white-nose syndrome coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Migratory Mexican free-tailed bats, which roost in the millions at popular sites such as Bracken Bat Cave, just north of San Antonio; the Congress Avenue Bridge; and Old Tunnel State Park, south of Fredericksburg, do not hibernate for long periods during the winter, and are not expected to be at high risk for the disease.
The Texas Parks and Wildife Department researchers are working with researchers at Texas A&M University to survey caves with hibernating bats. They are asking for willing landowners for help locating and accessing bat winter roosts and caves for tracking the spread of the fungus. Those with knowledge of such sites are asked to contact Jonah Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 830-331-8739.