DENVER – An invasive fungus that has killed millions of bats across North America has been detected for the first time in Colorado, state wildlife officials said Monday.
The infected bat was found on the ground and unable to fly on March 29 by National Park Service (NPS) staff at Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site in Otero County outside La Junta, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officials. It appeared to have a white powdery substance on its forearms, consistent with the white fungal growth observed on infected bats’ muzzles and wings.
Laboratory testing conducted by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) would later confirm the bat was infected with white-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans.
Though current evidence indicates the fungus does not spread from bats to humans as no human infections from P.d. have ever been documented after exposure to WNS-infected bats or caves, state wildlife officials are asking outdoor recreationists to help mitigate the spread of the disease as “there is a strong possibility that it may also be transmitted by humans inadvertently carrying the fungus from cave to cave on their clothing and gear,” according to a FAQ on the USGS website.
How you can help mitigate the spread of this deadly fungus
Now that WNS has been detected in Colorado, here are some simple things you can do to mitigate the spread of the fungus while recreating outdoors:
- Stay out of closed caves and mines
- Decontaminate footwear and all cave gear before and after visiting touring caves (pay close attention to pages 6-8)
- Do not touch bats. Report dead or sick ones to CPW by calling (303) 291-7771 or email email@example.com
- Gear and clothing used in areas where P.d. or WNS occurs should not be used in areas where the fungus is not known to occur.
- To avoid accidentally transporting bats, check canopies, umbrellas and other outdoor items for any bats that may have roosted in a nook or cranny.
Why CPW is now asking you to be fungus-aware
Bats can catch the fungus from physical contact with infected bats, but they can also pick it up from the surfaces of a cave or mine where they’re hibernating that’s been accidentally infected by humans carrying the fungus on their shoes, clothing or gear.
While the discovery of an infected bat with WNS came as no real surprise to scientists since the presence of the fungus had already been detected last summer at Bent’s Old Fort and three other sites in Baca, Larimer and Routt counties, CPW officials say the impact of the disease in Colorado could be devastating since of the 19 bat species native to Colorado, at least 13 may be susceptible to WNS.
“Any large-scale loss of bats would spell trouble for the health of Colorado’s ecosystems and economy, given estimates that these voracious insect eaters contribute $3 billion annually to the U.S. agricultural economy through pest control,” said CPW spokesman Travis Duncan.
White-nose syndrome was first documented in New York state in 2006, Since then it has been confirmed in 12 North American bat species and, with the addition of Colorado, it now occurs in 39 states and seven Canadian provinces, CPW officials said.