The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced on March 31 that a bat found in Washington state had tested positive for the deadly disease white nose syndrome (WNS), marking the first time the condition had been seen in western North America.
The animal, a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) found by hikers about 30 miles from Seattle, was reported to have had visible symptoms of the disease (a fuzzy white fungus). Detailed analyses later confirmed it was WNS. The bat died two days after being found.
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WNS has killed an estimated 6 million bats in North America, since it was first discovered in 2006 in eastern New York. Since then, it has spread to 28 US states and to five provinces in Canada, according to the FWS.
"We are extremely concerned about the confirmation of WNS in Washington state, about 1,300 miles from the previous westernmost detection of the fungus that causes the disease," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe in a statement.
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WNS is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which infects bats while they hibernate, harming their nose, ears, and wings. It robs them of energy they need to survive, as their fat reserves are prematurely drained. It can lay waste to entire colonies of bats.
"This finding in a far-western location is unfortunately indicative of the challenges we face with the unpredictability of WNS," said Suzette Kimball, director of the U.S. Geological Survey. "This underscores the critical importance of our work to develop tools for early detection and rapid response to potentially devastating wildlife diseases."