BARAGA (AP) – Michigan bats seem to be doing OK, so far dodging a disease that has been wiping out bat colonies around the country, according to a Michigan Department of Natural Resources report released Thursday.
A statewide survey of 60 bat wintering sites in Michigan found no sign of the fatal fungal disease white nose syndrome, the DNR said. It said Eastern Michigan University’s Allen Kurta and Steve Smith collaborated on the work.
In white nose syndrome, the fungus infects a bat’s skin and causes the bat’s energy reserves to deplete before the hibernation period is over.
Researchers surveyed caves and abandoned mines across the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula, the DNR said. It said the survey locations represent the major bat colony hibernation sites in Michigan, with some colonies numbering more than 50,000 bats.
“Our survey efforts focused on areas where WNS would most likely first appear,” said DNR wildlife biologist Bill Scullon, based in Baraga in the Upper Peninsula. “Given the speed with which this devastating disease has spread across the country, we’re very pleased to have found no visible signs of WNS in Michigan this season. Unfortunately, all indications are that the disease will eventually arrive here.”
According to the DNR, the invasive fungus behind the disease is believed to have originated in Europe. It has spread to 19 states and four Canadian provinces since an outbreak was discovered in eastern New York in 2006. White nose syndrome has been confirmed in Ontario at a location within 90 miles from Michigan border, as well as in Ohio and Indiana.
Since the disease was first detected in the U.S. at least 55 million bats from six different species have died from it, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Scientists say the mortality rate approaches 95 percent in some places.
Scientists have said they fear the disease could push some species to extinction and dramatically reduce the population of an animal farmers depend on for natural pest control.
Michigan has nine bat species, the DNR said. It said cave-dwelling bats such as little brown bats, big brown bats, tri-colored bats, northern long-eared bats and the federally endangered Indiana bats, at greatest risk of contracting white nose syndrome.
“These species all gather in large concentrations in caves and abandoned mines to hibernate during the winter months,” Scullon said. “Unfortunately, the cold temperatures, which normally would help the bats conserve body fat during hibernation, may now be part of their undoing, because the fungus that causes WNS grows optimally in these cold conditions.”
© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.