The Illinois Natural History Survey at the University of
Illinois, the United States Forest Service at Shawnee National
Forest, the University of Illinois' Veterinary Diagnostic
Laboratory and the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in
Madison, Wis., assisted in the discovery of white-nose syndrome,
which was detected in LaSalle County in north-central Illinois,
Monroe County in southwestern Illinois, and Hardin and Pope
counties in extreme southern Illinois.
Little brown bats and northern long-eared bats from these
counties were submitted to the U of I Veterinary Diagnostic
Laboratory and the National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin
in early to mid-February. Both of these laboratories confirmed
the disease, while the fungal pathogen was isolated directly
from a LaSalle County bat and a Monroe County bat by the
Illinois Natural History Survey.
With confirmation of white-nose syndrome in Illinois, a total
of 20 states, mostly in the eastern U.S., plus five Canadian
provinces have now been confirmed with the infection present.
Currently seven hibernating bat species are affected: little
brown bat, big brown bat, northern long-eared bat, tri-colored
bat, eastern small-footed bat, the endangered Indiana bat and
the endangered gray bat. The disease continues to spread rapidly
and has the potential to infect at least half of the bat species
found in North America.
White-nose syndrome is not known to affect people, pets or
livestock but is harmful or lethal to hibernating bats, killing
90 percent or more of some species of bats in caves where the
fungus has lasted for a year or longer, according to the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service. The disease is known to be
transmitted primarily from bat to bat, but spores of Geomyces
destructans, the non-native, cold-loving fungus that causes
white-nose syndrome, may be inadvertently carried between caves
and abandoned mines by humans on clothing, footwear and caving
gear. The name of the disease refers to the white fungal growth
often found on the noses of infected bats.
White-nose syndrome was first detected in New York State in
2006 and has killed more than 5.7 million cave-dwelling bats in
the eastern third of North America as it has spread south and
west across the landscape. A map of the current spread of
white-nose syndrome is available at
Research has shown that bats infected with white-nose
syndrome, or WNS, are awaking from hibernation as often as every
three to four days as opposed to the normal every 10 to 20 days.
The fungus damages the connective tissues, muscles and skin of
the bats while also disrupting their physiological functions.
The bats wake up dehydrated and hungry during the cold winters
when there are no insects to eat.
"Although its arrival was anticipated, the documented spread
of WNS into Illinois is discouraging news, mainly because there
is no known way to prevent or stop this disease in its tracks,"
said Joe Kath, endangered species manager for the Illinois
Department of Natural Resources.
"Pest-control services provided by insect-eating bats in the
United States likely save the U.S. agricultural industry several
billion dollars a year, and yet insectivorous bats are among the
most overlooked, economically important non-domesticated animals
in North America."
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"Isolating the fungal pathogen directly from a bat is the 'gold
standard' for confirming this disease, and the Bat WNS team at the
University of Illinois was able to do this in our laboratory," said
Andrew Miller, mycologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey.
"We are saddened by the discovery of WNS in Illinois," said
Jeremy Coleman, national WNS coordinator for the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service. "We will continue to work with our partners to
address this devastating disease and work towards conservation of
bat species in North America."
Because Illinois and several other Midwestern states are home to
many federally endangered bat species, as well as some of the
largest hibernating bat populations in the country, the complete
closure of all IDNR-owned or managed caves within the state of
Illinois was enacted in 2010. In addition, all caves within the
Shawnee National Forest, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, have
been formally closed since 2009. Both the IDNR and USFS will be
evaluating these caves on an annual basis, and the closure orders
will remain in effect for the benefits of bat conservation until
Unfortunately, research indicates that the fungus that causes
white-nose syndrome remains in caves where bats hibernate even when
bats are not present, and the IDNR remains concerned that people may
inadvertently carry WNS out of the caves with them.
"The IDNR recognizes that continued cave closures will require
patience from the caving community and other citizens. However, the
observed devastation to bat populations and the evidence for
human-assisted spread justifies that we exercise an abundance of
caution in managing activities that impact caves and bats," Kath
added. "We understand these measures will not be a cure for WNS, but
they are necessary to help slow the spread of this affliction and to
reduce the risks to surviving bat populations in North America."
Bats are the only major predator of night-flying insects and play
a crucial role in the environment. A single big brown bat can eat
between 3,000 and 7,000 mosquitoes in a night, with large
populations of bats consuming thousands of tons of potentially
harmful forest and agricultural pests annually. The bat conservation
community is deeply concerned and involved with fighting the spread
of white-nose syndrome. Researchers in Illinois and across the U.S.
are working diligently on finding a way to mitigate this fatal
disease. Federal, state and local organizations continue to focus on
conservation, containment and education.
Illinois Department of
file received from the
Illinois Office of Communication and Information]