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Wildlife Managers Say New Disease Could Affect NW Bat Populations

February 4, 2010


Fringed bat

Fringed bat flying in the high desert of Central Oregon.
Photo by Michael Durham.

Salem, Ore.—The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife asks Oregonians, especially those who work in or enjoy exploring caves or mines, to take action to limit the spread of white-nose syndrome, a new disease that has killed over one million bats in the northeast.

White-nose syndrome is caused by a cold-environment fungus that thrives in the same temperature range as hibernating bats do. Once infected, bats demonstrate a tell-tale white fuzzy growth on their noses. The direct cause of death is still unclear, although it is believed the fungus interrupts sleep patterns and causes the hibernating bats to awaken during winter and burn calories they can’t afford to use, depleting their fat reserves and causing starvation.

Although white-nose syndrome has not yet arrived in Oregon, precautions need to be taken now to ensure the health of our native bats, which play important roles in the environment. For example, one bat can eat up to 600 insects in an hour, benefiting farmers, foresters and homeowners.

First, never disturb a bat colony. Bats are highly sensitive to disturbance when they gather together in summer to give birth and in winter to hibernate. Second, avoid going into mines or caves unless necessary. If you do enter a cave, decontaminate your clothing and equipment to avoid transmitting any potential disease. Decontamination is particularly critical if you have been in caves in the eastern United States. Third, notify your local ODFW office if you observe several dead bats in the same location. Do not pick up or handle bats, alive or dead.

“We need to monitor the health of our bat populations. A number of our native species are already vulnerable,” said Andrea Hanson, ODFW Strategy Species coordinator. “In the past, reports of unusual bat deaths have come from the public, which is why we are asking for help from Oregonians.”

There are 15 species of bats in Oregon. Many of them are identified in the Oregon Conservation Strategy as species in need of help. Learn more about them in the Conservation Summaries of Strategy Species section of the Strategy.

More information

If you have been in a cave, follow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recommended decontamination procedure which is detailed on their Northeast Region website.

Report unusual bat death situations to Andrea Hanson, ODFW Strategy Species coordinator, (503) 947-6320, or Colin Gillin, State Wildlife veterinarian, (541) 757-4186.

Living with Bats, a flyer about bats in Oregon, is available on the ODFW website (pdf).

The Bat Conservation International website, has additional information on white-nose syndrome. 




Andrea Hanson, ODFW Strategy Species coordinator, (503) 947-6320
Meg Kenagy, ODFW Conservation Strategy Communications coordinator, (503) 947-6021

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