White-nose syndrome, a disease that has killed millions of bats in the East, has now been confirmed in two bats in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Biologists found WNS in both a tricolored and a little brown bat found in a park cave, officials said today. Only the fungus that causes the disease had been previously confirmed in the sprawling park of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.
The disease is named for a white fungus that forms on the faces of many victims. The fungus makes bats restless during hibernation in caves, moving about and burning up fat reserves or losing body moisture needed to survive winter. There is no cure.
Of the 11 bat species found in the Smokies park, at least six hibernate in caves and old mines, making them susceptible to WNS. The park closed all 16 of its caves and two mining complexes to the public in 2009 in an effort to prevent spread of the disease.
The disease does not appear to be a risk to humans, but dead bats or animals that are acting strangely should not be handled because bats carry rabies.
"While the confirmation of WNS in the park is not a surprise," said park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson, "it is still a sad day for the resource." Go here for a podcast on WNS in the Smokies.