Fungus causing bat disease found in eastern New Mexico
SANTA FE, N.M. – The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is announcing that the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) has been detected on hibernating bats and cave walls in two eastern New Mexico caves managed by its Roswell Field Office.
Pd is an invasive fungus that can spread rapidly, primarily through bat-to-bat contact, and that causes white-nose syndrome (WNS), in hibernating bats. WNS has killed millions of bats in North America. According to a recent study published in Conservation Biology, the disease has killed over 90 percent of exposed populations of three bat species in fewer than 10 years.
During routine WNS surveillance conducted in April 2021, a team of biologists observed white powdery growth consistent with the Pd fungus on numerous hibernating cave bats (Myotis velifer), and swab samples were collected from bats and cave walls. Laboratory testing of the swab samples by the University of New Mexico and Northern Arizona University using a real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test detected Pd in multiple samples, including swabs collected from the skin of hibernating bats and from cave walls. These results were subsequently verified by the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center, confirming presence of Pd in two caves located in De Baca and Lincoln Counties, New Mexico. Inconclusive results for Pd presence in environmental samples at a second Lincoln County site (Ft. Stanton Cave) were identified by testing at the University of New Mexico/Northern Arizona University.
WNS has been confirmed in 36 states, including neighboring Texas and Oklahoma, and seven Canadian provinces. Evidence of the fungus, but not WNS, has been found in three additional states. Any new sign of its spread is worrisome because bats are vital for healthy ecosystems. According to the journal Science (2011), bats are voracious insect-eaters that contribute at least $3 billion annually to the U.S. agricultural economy through pest control.
Although bats themselves are the primary way the fungus spreads, possible spread by human activity in caves is a major concern. Neither the fungus nor the disease affects humans or pets, but people can help to limit their spread. State and Federal agencies in New Mexico and throughout the U.S. ask that outdoors enthusiasts help by following these recommendations:
- Stay out of closed caves and mines
- Decontaminate footwear and all cave gear before and after visiting or touring caves and other places where bats live
- Do not touch bats; report dead or sick ones to local agency rangers or wildlife biologists
- Gear and clothing used in Pd-positive or WNS-infected areas should not be used in areas free of Pd
- To avoid accidentally transporting bats, check canopies, umbrellas and other outdoor items for any bats that may have roosted in a nook or cranny
According to the guidance established under the national WNS response plan, New Mexico is in the “intermediate” category for decontamination protocols because it borders a state (Texas) where WNS has been confirmed. Among such measures is that gear and clothing used while visiting a cave in a place where Pd fungus has been found should not be used or worn in a cave where the Pd status is unknown. (See full range of national decontamination guidance at https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/topics/decontamination).
For more information, please contact BLM Wildlife Biologist Marikay Ramsey at 505-603-8537.
The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 western states, including Alaska, on behalf of the American people. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. Our mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.