White-Nose Syndrome (WNS)
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is an emergent disease of hibernating bats that has spread from the northeastern to the central United States at an alarming rate. Since the winter of 2007-2008, millions of insect-eating bats in 29 states and five Canadian provinces have died from this devastating disease. (see map below) The disease is named for the white fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, that infects skin of the muzzle, ears, and wings of hibernating bats. In 2016, WNS was confirmed in Washington and Rhode Island.
The USGS National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC), along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners continue to play a primary role in WNS research. Studies conducted at NWHC led to the discovery, characterization, and naming of the causative agent (the cold-loving fungus P. destructans), and to the development of standardized criteria for diagnosing the disease. Additionally, scientists at the NWHC have pioneered laboratory techniques for studying impacts of the fungus on hibernating bats.
To determine if bats are affected by white-nose syndrome, scientists look for a characteristic microscopic pattern of skin erosion caused by P. destructans. Field signs of WNS can include visible white fungal growth on the bat’s muzzle and/or wing tissue, but this is not a reliable indicator. Infected bats also often display abnormal behaviors in their hibernation sites (hibernacula), such as movement toward the mouth of caves and daytime flights during winter. These abnormal behaviors may contribute to the untimely consumption of stored fat reserves causing emaciation, a characteristic documented in a portion of the bats that die from WNS.
Current estimates of bat population declines in the northeastern US since the emergence of WNS are approximately 80%. This sudden and widespread mortality associated with WNS is unprecedented in hibernating bats, among which disease outbreaks have not been previously documented. It is unlikely that species of bats affected by WNS will recover quickly because most are long-lived and have only a single pup per year. Consequently, even in the absence of disease, bat populations do not fluctuate widely in numbers over time.
The true ecological consequences of large-scale population reductions currently under way among hibernating bats are not yet known. However, farmers might feel the impact. In temperate regions, bats are primary consumers of insects, and a recent economic analysis indicated that insect suppression services (ecosystem services) provided by bats to U.S. agriculture is valued between 4 to 50 billion dollars per year.
Despite efforts to contain it, WNS continues to spread. In March 2016, a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus alascensis) found sick in King County, Washington, tested positive for WNS. Genetic analysis on the fungus from this bat found that the strain of fungus was genetically similar to strains found in the eastern U.S. and did not likely originate in Eurasia. See the link below for map of WNS occurrences in North America
WNS Occurrence by County (Map)
Report WNS observations to your state conservation agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the The USGS National Wildlife Health Center, at 608-270-2400.
Disease Investigation Services
To request diagnostic services or report wildlife mortality, please contact the NWHC at 608-270-2480 or by email at NWHCfirstname.lastname@example.org,and a field epidemiologist will be available to discuss the case. To report wildlife mortality events in Hawaii or Pacific Island territories, please contact the Honolulu Field Station at 808-792-9520 or email Thierry Work at email@example.com. Further information can be found at http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/services/
Wildlife Mortality Reporting and Diagnostic Submission Request Form
WNS Related Links
Battle For Bats: Surviving White Nose Syndrome
Battle For Bats: Surviving White Nose Syndrome was produced for the USDA Forest Service by Ravenswood Media. It shows how government and private agencies have come together to search for solutions to help our bat populations overcome WNS. The public can also play a role in the future of bats by providing habitat and surveying their populations. Bats are a critical component in a healthy forest ecosystem, plus they provide significant agricultural pest control and pollination. Their survival is essential for a sustainable natural environment.
Experimental infection of bats with Pseudogymnoascus destructans causes white-nose syndrome
Researchers have confirmed that a recently identified fungus is responsible for white-nose syndrome, a deadly disease that is sweeping through bat colonies in eastern North America. Full Article
Bat White-Nose Syndrome: An Emerging Fungal Pathogen?
A previously undescribed, cold-loving fungus has been linked to white-nose syndrome, a condition associated with the deaths of over one million hibernating bats in the northeastern United States. The findings are published in the January 9, 2009 issue of Science. Download PDF
Other WNS Publications
- Read about WNS in Microbe Magazine: A Plain Language Review
- Recovery of little brown bats (myotis lucifugus) from natural infection with Pseudogymnoascus destructans, white-nose syndrome (Journal of Wildlife Diseases 2011)
- DNA-based detection of the fungal pathogen Pseudogymnoascus destructans in soil from bat hibernacula. (Mycologia 2010)
- Wing pathology of white-nose syndrome in bats suggests life-threatening disruption of physiology (BMC Biology Journal, November 2010)
- WNS Fungus in Bats, Europe (Emerging Infectious Diseases, August 2010)
- Rapid PCR technique to detect Pseudogymnoascus destructans in bat skin (J. Vet. Diag., 2010)
- WNS Fungus in Bat, France (Emerging Infectious Diseases, Feb. 2010)
- Histopathologic criteria to confirm white-nose syndrome in bats (J. Vet. Diag., 2009)
- Species Name Published for Fungus that Causes White Nose Syndrome Skin Infection (Mycotaxon, 2009)
- Could localized warm areas inside cold caves reduce mortality of hibernating bats affected by white-nose syndrome? (Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 2009)