For the first time, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologists have confirmed the disease white-nose syndrome (WNS) in a Texas bat. Up until this point, while the fungus that causes the disease was previously detected in Texas in 2017, there were no signs of the disease it can cause. WNS has killed millions of hibernating bats in the eastern parts of the United States, raising national concern.
WNS is a fungal disease only known to occur in bats and is not a risk to people. However, bats are wild animals and should not be handled by untrained individuals. The public is encouraged to report dead or sick bats to TPWD at [email protected] for possible testing.
The infected bat was a cave myotis (Myotis velifer) found dead in Central Texas (Gillespie County) on Feb. 23. The specimen was sent to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center for testing and was confirmed positive for WNS through skin histopathology. The bat also tested positive for the fungus.
While the fungus was detected for the first time in Texas in early 2017 in the Panhandle, the first detections in Central Texas were in 2018. In 2019, biologists reported finding high levels of the fungus on cave myotis at several Central Texas locations. It has now been found in 21 counties across the state.
“Finding WNS in Central Texas for the first time is definitely concerning,” said Nathan Fuller, Bat Specialist at TPWD. “Biologists had hoped that white-nose syndrome, a disease that thrives in cold conditions, might not occur in warmer parts of Texas. We’re following up on several other reports to determine whether this was an isolated incident or if the impacts are more widespread. We recently received a report from site in Bell County of five cave myotis that we suspect were infected as well. We should know more in the next few weeks.”
White-nose syndrome is caused by the cold-adapted fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans and has been rapidly spreading since its discovery in New York in 2007. It is thought to have been introduced from Europe, where bats appear to be resistant to the fungus. In parts of the United States there have been declines in winter bat numbers of greater than 90 percent. Bats are very long lived and because many produce just one offspring per year, researchers are concerned it could take many decades for some populations to recover from a major decline.
Through support from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, TPWD has funded research projects with Bat Conservation International (BCI), the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute, and Texas State University to study bats, the fungus, and possible treatments.
A locator map of fungus detections in Texas in 2019 is available online at https://flic.kr/p/TFu1f9.