Wildlife researchers have confirmed the presence of white-nose syndrome in bats at Devils Tower National Monument.
Officials said that while this is the first confirmation of WNS in Wyoming, the fungus that causes WNS was potentially detected in southeast Wyoming as early as 2018.
According to a news release, biologists from the University of Wyoming discovered evidence of WNS during surveys completed in early May 2021, when they captured and sampled bats to test for the fungus. The work was in collaboration with the Wyoming Game & Fish Department as part of an ongoing regional surveillance project funded by the National Park Service.
The samples were sent to the Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Lab where they detected the presence of the fungus on four of the 19 bats tested. Additional samples from these bats were sent to the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center which confirmed WNS in both bat species.
The presence of WNS in Wyoming is not a surprise for wildlife managers. The disease was confirmed in the Black Hills in 2018, and more recently in a dead bat found in Fallon County, Montana in April 2021.
“The spread of white-nose syndrome and (the fungus) into northeastern Wyoming is disheartening and frustrating,” said Devils Tower Chief of Resources Management Russ Cash. “The devastation that white-nose syndrome brings to bat populations is terrifying. Bats are such an important piece of our ecosystem and our well-being as humans. Bats devour unbelievable amounts of insects and pests that are a nuisance to humans.”
The Wyoming Game & Fish Department, the NPS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to work together to implement state and national response plans for WNS within the state, the news release said. Detection of WNS at Devils Tower demonstrates the continued spread of this deadly disease, which has killed millions of bats in North America since the fungus first appeared in 2006 in New York.
Scientists believe humans may have unintentionally brought the fungus from Eurasia to the U.S. Wyoming is the 37th state to confirm the disease, which has also been found in seven Canadian provinces.
The fungus that causes this disease is primarily spread through direct contact between bats. However, people can spread the fungus when using clothes, footwear and gear that has been used at infected bat roosts, such as caves or rock crevices.
The National Park Service said the best way to reduce the risk of spread is to stay out of closed caves and mines; use site-dedicated footwear, clothing and gear; and clean and disinfect these items before and after visiting caves and other places where bats live. National guidance for movement and decontamination of gear can be found at www.whitenosesyndrome.org.