A fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, a disease that's deadly to hibernating bats but not a direct health risk for humans, has been detected in North Dakota for the first time, the National Park Service reported Wednesday, June 26.

The fungus was detected on one little brown bat captured the night of May 6, 2019 within the boundary of Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site northwest of Bismarck during proactive testing conducted by the National Park Service Northern Great Plains Network in collaboration with the University of Wyoming.

Bats are important for healthy ecosystems and contribute at least $3 billion annually to the U.S. agriculture economy through pest control and pollination. WNS has killed millions of bats in North America — with mortality rates of up to 100% observed at some colonies — since it first was seen in New York in 2006. To date, WNS has been confirmed in bats from 33 states and seven Canadian provinces. North Dakota joins Wyoming, Mississippi and Texas as states that have detected the fungus that causes WNS have but not yet confirmed the disease.

The fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), causes WNS, named for the powdery, white fungus that often appears around infected bats’ muzzles.

“Detection of the fungus in North Dakota this May demonstrates the continued expansion of this invasive pathogen through North America,” said Jeremy Coleman, national white-nose syndrome coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which leads the national response to WNS. “As Pd continues to spread into new territory, biologists from many agencies and institutions are working together to understand and manage the impact of WNS on our native bats.”

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The National Park Service supported the operation with funds dedicated to WNS response in national parks to actively protect bats and their habitats.

The National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, University of Wyoming and North Dakota Game and Fish Department will continue to work together to screen for the fungus and disease in North Dakota.

“It’s difficult to determine where this individual bat encountered the fungus, because these bats were captured after they emerged from winter hibernation when they already could have traveled hundreds of miles this spring,” said Patrick Isakson, biologist with North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

State and federal agencies are asking for help to stop the spread of this disease. The best way to help protect bats is by staying out of caves and areas that are closed. Anyone who sees a dead or sick bat should notify park rangers or state biologists. Do not handle bats. Additionally, people can help slow the spread of WNS by decontaminating their caving and hiking gear and boots and by not moving potentially contaminated clothing and equipment to areas where the fungus is not known to occur.

More info: www.whitenosesyndrome.org.