Bats and White Nose Syndrome (WNS)

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Bat with White Nose SyndromeWhite-Nose Syndrome, a fungus that has decimated some bat species in the Northeast, was confirmed in South Carolina in March 2013.

What is White-nose Syndrome?

White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a disease that has killed more than 5.7 million bats North America. In some hibernacula, 90 to 100 % of bats have died from this disease. The fungus that causes WNS, Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), was first discovered in North America in 2006 in NY. It has since spread into 31 states and 5 Canadian provinces (as of Sept 2017). This fungus thrives in the cool, humid conditions found in mines and caves. There is currently no known cure.

WNS is caused by a fungal infection of the skin, primarily around the muzzle, ears, and wings. Once a bat is infected, it tends to arouse from hibernation more frequently, using up its fat stores. The deterioration of wing tissue can impair the bats’ ability to fly. Dehydration and starvation often lead to death.

Video on White Battle for Bat Syndrome
Video courtesy of
USDA Forest Service
Battle for Bats: Surviving WNS

White-Nose Syndrome is not a direct threat to humans, and no other mammals seem to be affected. WNS can be spread from bat to bat and from the cave environment. Equipment and clothing can also carry the fungal spores that cause WNS from site to site.

Wildlife professionals need to be prepared for bat die-offs and groups of bats displaying unusual behaviors. While there currently is no proven cure or prevention of WNS, it is important to properly diagnose it and to monitor WNS-positive colonies.

See the South Carolina White-nose Syndrome Response Plan - Revised April 2018 for more information.

History of WNS in SC:

White-nose Syndrome Occurrence by County in SC

WNS was first detected in SC in March of 2013 at Table Rock State Park. Since that first occurrence in Pickens County, the fungus has been detected in 9 additional counties. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) staff conduct testing for Pd in caves and mines that are known to be home to hibernating bats. Samples are collected in late winter (February and March), when symptoms of disease are more likely to be seen. SCDNR works with the National Wildlife Health Center and Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study to have these samples tested.

Unfortunately, tri-colored bat populations in major Upstate hibernacula have declined at an alarming rate (up to 97 percent) since WNS arrived in South Carolina. After a total decline of 91 percent at one major site after only three years, the most recent count shows a slowdown in the decline. But it doesn’t leave much: only 30 bats where once there were hundreds.

On a more positive note, while the testing conducted in Piedmont sites in 2017 and 2018 came back positive for Pd on bats or in the cave environment, none of the bats had any obvious signs of WNS.

Not all colonial bats species are affected by WNS. For example, common bats that don’t hibernate for long periods of time such as the Brazilian free-tailed bat and evening bat do not seem to be impacted at all. Tree bats such as the Eastern red bat don’t seem to suffer from WNS either, though the fungus that causes the disease has been found on them.

Occurrence of WNS for South Carolina Bat Species

Common Name Scientific Name Affected by WNS
Big Brown Bat Eptesicus fuscus Yes
Eastern Small-footed Bat+ Myotis leibii Yes
Little Brown Bat Myotis lucifugus Yes
Northern Long-eared Bat Myotis septentrionalis Yes
Southeastern Bat Myotis austroriparius Yes
Tricolored Bat+ Perimyotis subflavus Yes
Rafinesque's Big-eared Bat Corynorhinus rafinesquii **
Silver-haired Bat Lasionycteris noctivagans **
Eastern Red Bat Lasiurus borealis **
Hoary Bat Lasiurus cinereus  
Northern Yellow Bat Lasiurus intermedius  
Seminole Bat Lasiurus seminolus  
Evening Bat Nycticeius humeralis  
Brazilian Free-tailed Bat Tadarida brasiliensis  

+ Species that have tested positive for WNS in South Carolina

** WNS has been detected on these species, but have not yet shown diagnostic sign of the disease.

What should I do if I find dead bats?

Keep children and pets away from any dead or dying bats and place a bucket or can over any fresh carcass. Never handle a dead or live bat with bare hands. Dead bats are best picked up when wearing disposable latex or nitrile gloves, then double bag the bat in plastic bag. If bats are not fresh (odorous or have ants) they cannot be tested and should be disposed up by scooping them up with a shovel and placing in a plastic bag, tie off the bag and place bat(s) in the trash.

If dead and dying bats are found with white fuzzy material on muzzle or wings in winter and early spring, contact your regional wildlife office promptly. Bats flying in daytime during hot weather are not too uncommon and that behavior is probably not linked to WNS. WNS testing is not usually conducted in the warm months.

To determine the best plan of action for dead bats, follow the flowchart in Figure 2 in the SC WNS Response Plan above. See page 8 for more detailed information on how to deal with bat carcasses.

Additional Information on White-nose Syndrome