Georgia Department of Natural Resources reports on white-nose syndrome in bats

A little brown myotis bat

Authored By Staff report

A little brown myotis bat, no longer seen in North Georgia, displays white-nose syndrome. (Photo: Marvin Moriarty/USFWS)

Deadly and fast-spreading, the disease named for the snow-white fungus sometimes found on the muzzles and skin of affected bats has killed millions of bats in North America. That toll, estimated at 5.7 million to 6.7 million bats in 2011, is rising.

White-nose, often called WNS, was documented in Georgia in 2013. The state Department of Natural Resources has been working since to track and slow the advance of the disease and gauge its impact.

When Georgia bat counts ticked up 1 percent this winter compared to last, it didn’t ease worries over white-nose syndrome.

Totals in the caves that Georgia DNR surveys are still down 93 percent from historical highs. (Think one bat today for every 10 counted before.) The disease that has killed millions of bats is hammering north Georgia’s most common species: the tri-colored. And except for gray bats, Myotis bats are simply no longer seen in the region.

DNR senior wildlife biologist Katrina Morris said she “wants to be excited” about the increase, but the reality is sobering.

“We had a real winter, and I think it’s more likely there were more bats in the caves,” because of the more persistent cold, said Morris, who leads bat surveys for the Wildlife Conservation Section.

This just-released report and story map detail findings from the 2017-2018 surveys. Learn more about white-nose (WNS) in Georgia at www. georgiawildlife.com/wns.

Survey insights

  • The good: Neither WNS nor Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), the introduced fungus that causes the disease, have been confirmed in Georgia south of Polk County. A survey of bridges and culverts, which often double as bat roosts in the cave-scarce Piedmont and Coastal Plains, is probing whether these transportation structures are transmission corridors for Pd. Results from samples taken at the sites are expected later this year.
  • The bad: North Georgia is saturated with WNS and bat counts have dropped “across the board,” Morris said. The outlook is grim. In the northeastern U.S., where the disease was first documented on this continent, only a few hard-hit sites have since seen bat populations increase. Numbers at most remain low.
  • The outlook: Next winter’s surveys will include a subset of known infected sites — where the story of loss remains essentially the same. The emphasis will be on transportation structures to track the potential spread, plus caves outside the known range of WNS. (Know of a “new” cave, access to sites or a bridge or culvert that has bats in winter? Email Katrina Morris at [email protected].)