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White Nose Syndrome identified in bats at WKU research cave

White Nose Syndrome (WNS), an often-fatal disease that is ravaging bat populations throughout eastern North America, was positively identified last week within WKU-owned Crumps Cave in northern Warren County near Smiths Grove.

Infected Tri-color bat in Crumps Cave shows clear signs of infection by the fungus associated with White Nose Syndrome.  On Tuesday (Feb. 10) numerous bats in the cave showed similar signs of the malady, which is typically fatal.  Photo by Rick Toomey.

This Tri-colored bat in Crumps Cave shows clear signs of infection by the fungus associated with White Nose Syndrome. On Feb. 10 numerous bats in the cave showed similar signs of WNS, which is typically fatal. (Photo by Rick Toomey)

Dr. Rick Toomey, Director of the Mammoth Cave International Center for Science and Learning, led a team of National Park Service scientists on a survey of the cave’s bats on Feb. 10. It soon became clear that there was a serious problem when the second bat they investigated had unmistakable signs of the telltale white fungus associated with WNS that can grow on the bats’ faces and other areas of the body.

Of the 53 individual Tri-colored bats (Perimyotis subflavus) observed by the team, 12 had clear signs of WNS. Several big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) were also found, but appeared to be healthy.

White Nose Syndrome was discovered in a New York cave in 2006, and since then it has spread to at least 25 states and five Canadian Provinces. It is caused by a previously unidentified fungus species. In some places where bats hibernate for the winter, up to 90 percent of individuals have been wiped out. A variety of scientists from different fields are trying to understand the dynamics of WNS and how it might be controlled. More information on WNS can be found at https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org.

Dr. Chris Groves, Director of WKU’s Crawford Hydrology Laboratory who serves as a member of management team of the WKU Crumps Cave Research and Education Preserve, had requested the assistance of the National Park Service to provide a team that could inventory the current bats and evaluate conditions for WNS. He accompanied the team into cave. “Since White Nose arrived in Kentucky in 2012, and Mammoth Cave National Park the year after, we have guessed that it’s just a matter of time until it got to Crumps,” he said.

There is particular concern because the cave is home to a summer colony of federally endangered gray bats (Myotis grisescens). “It was still really hard to actually see it there,” Dr. Groves added.

WKU purchased the land containing the cave entrance in 2008 through a grant from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund Board (KHLCFB), a state agency that uses funds from conservation license plates and environmental fines paid to the state to provide grants for the purchase of land to preserve it for conservation. WKU has a long and successful history of collaboration with the KHLCFB, particularly through the WKU-owned Green River Preserve in Hart County, 1,520 acres along the Green River upstream from Mammoth Cave National Park that is home to at least 12 endangered species.

“We are so very proud of the partnership between WKU and KHLCF,” said Dr. Richie Kessler, the board’s director. “This collaboration has led to the conservation of some of Kentucky’s most important landscape features and biological resources while also providing numerous opportunities for new discoveries and on-site scientific research by students and faculty.”

Dr. Kessler and KHLCF Staff Biologist Zeb Weese were notified Feb. 10 about the discovery of WNS at Crumps.

Contact: Chris Groves, (270) 745-5974 or chris.groves@wku.edu

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