The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) announces that white-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease that is an often fatal to bats, has been confirmed for the first time in Rhode Island. A tri-colored bat hibernating in Newport County has tested positive for the presence of the disease, and soil samples collected from two other locations in Newport County confirmed the presence of fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), which causes the disease. There is no evidence that the disease poses a threat to humans, domestic animals, or other wildlife.
The finding was not unexpected, as WNS is present in all other New England states. Rhode Island is the 29th state to confirm the presence of the fungus; the disease has killed approximately six million bats across the eastern US and eastern Canada since its discovery in eastern New York State in 2006. WNS disrupts the behavior and metabolism of bats during hibernation, causing them to deplete their fat reserves. Symptoms include deterioration of the wing membranes or uncharacteristic behavior such as flying outside during the daytime in winter.
A white fungus that often appears on the muzzle, forearms, or wings of affected bats during hibernation in the cold, humid environments of caves and mines. The fungus is primarily transmitted from bat to bat by direct contact; fungal spores can also be spread to caves and mines by humans on clothing, footwear, and equipment.
The fungus was found in swab samples collected in Rhode Island as part of a national research study at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin. In early February when the samples were collected, and again in March the bats in question showed no visible signs of the disease; however, further testing confirmed that one bat was infected with WNS and that two other bats were suspected of infection.
Three additional locations where bats are known to hibernate were also surveyed this winter. Soil samples collected at two locations in Newport County confirmed presence of the fungus, although none of the bats at these two sites tested positive for the fungus or exhibited signs of the disease. The sampling procedure does not injure the bat and causes a minimal amount of disturbance to the bat. DEM's Division of Fish and Wildlife continues to monitor known bat hibernation sites for the presence of WNS and its impact on the bat population.
Rhode Island does not host a large number of hibernating bats as there are no mines or natural caves in the state. Some man-made structures, however, provide a similar environment and small numbers of bats often utilize these structures for hibernation.
For more information on WNS visit the USGS National Wildlife Health Center website.
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