Disease fatal to bats found in Marion County cave

YELLVILLE, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said Wednesday the presence of a disease known to kill bats has been confirmed in a cave in Marion County.

The commission said five bats were found dead during a Jan. 11 survey of the cave, which is managed by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. Two bats were submitted to the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center for testing, and it confirmed Arkansas as the 23rd state with white-nose syndrome among northern long-eared bats.

The syndrome is fatal to several bat species. While it is not known to pose a threat to humans, pets or livestock, fungal spores can be inadvertantly carried to caves by humans on their clothing, boots and equipment.

Last summer, a low level of the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome was detected in two north Arkansas caves at Devil’s Den State Park and in Baxter County. The confirmation of the syndrome was expected.

“After finding out that the fungus was present in Arkansas last year, it wasn’t a surprise to confirm that white-nose syndrome was killing bats this winter,” said Blake Sasse, the leader of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Nongame Mammal Program Leader.

Last Oct. 2, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that the northern long-eared bats receive federal protection as an endangered species. It is already considered endangered by Arkansas game and fish officials.

The fungus was found in swab samples taken from hibernating bats in February 2012 and January 2013. Tests detected DNA that indicates the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, which is deadly for bats, particularly in the northeastern U.S. and Canada.

Bats play a key role in keeping insects, including agricultural pests, mosquitoes and forest pests, under control.

Bats with WNS may exhibit unusual behavior during cold winter months, including flying outside during the day and clustering near the entrances of caves and mines where they hibernate. Bats have been found sick and dying in unprecedented numbers near affected sites.

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