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.
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.
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. Chris Groves, Director of WKU’s Crawford Hydrology Laboratory said.
“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.
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.