Disease forces cancellation of bat program
BARABOO - A Wisconsin state park has canceled its summer bat watching program due to a fungal disease decimating the park's population of the mammals.
A disease known as white-nose syndrome has spread among the brown bat population in Devil's Lake State Park, the Baraboo News Republic reported. The disease causes white fungus to form on the muzzle, wings, ears and other parts of infected bats.
In one year the brown bat population living in the park's wooden bat home has dropped from 200 bats to fewer than 20, said Sue Johansen, a park naturalist.
The disease first turned up at a site in Grant County, said Paul White, a conservation biologist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. It has since spread to more than 60 areas across the state.
"It ends up causing them to leave these hibernation sites much earlier than they normally would," he said. "They then succumb to a variety of issues. There aren't any insects available in the middle of February. They also will die from exposure to colder elements at that point."
There's no known cure for the syndrome, White said. The department is putting together an educational campaign to try and stop the spread of the fungus through human transportation. White said it's important to decontaminate clothing when traveling from site to site.
The park will continue to hold bat hikes, where participants can look for non-cave-dwelling species that haven't been infected by the fungus.
"There are still bats around — there just aren't the high numbers like we've had," Johansen said.