WEST FORK (AGFC) – A
low level of the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats has
been detected in two north Arkansas caves. The fungus was discovered in a
cave at Devil's Den State Park in Washington County and a private cave
located in southern Baxter County. No bat deaths due to white-nose
syndrome are known to have occurred in Arkansas.
was found in swab samples taken from hibernating bats in February 2012
and January 2013. Tests detected DNA that indicates the fungus (Geomyces
destructans) that causes white-nose syndrome, which is deadly for bats,
particularly in the northeastern U.S. and Canada. The testing was part
of a national study funded by the National Science Foundation and led by
researchers at University of California Santa Cruz and Northern Arizona
University to track the spread of the disease.
from the wall of Devil's Den Cave was found to be positive with a low
level of the fungus detected. A total of five swabs from bats and two
swabs from the cave wall at the private cave were positive for the
fungus. The samples from the private cave were taken in 2012 and were
originally thought not to have the fungus, but were reanalyzed using a
more sensitive technique this year and the fungus was identified. The
characteristic white nose seen on bats with the fungus on them was not
present on these surveys and the fungus was only present in microscopic
2010, Devil's Den Cave and Ice Box Cave at Devil's Den State Park, and
War Eagle Cave at Withrow Springs State Park, were closed to the public
by Arkansas State Parks as precautions to protect the caves from the
possibility of contamination from white-nose syndrome. Earlier, in May
2009, Farmer's Cave and Big Ear Cave at Devil's Den closed as
Director Greg Butts said, "Safeguarding natural resources is an integral
part of Arkansas State Parks' mission. We know the public understands
why we're working with other state and federal agencies to do all we can
to protect Arkansas's caves and the bat species that inhabit them."
the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's Nongame Mammal Program Leader
said the agency would be watching the caves closely. "We'll be returning
to these sites this winter to see if the fungus has caused the
development of white-nose syndrome and will be surveying caves near them
to track its spread," Sasse said.
2010, the AGFC closed all caves on AGFC land and Arkansas Natural
Heritage Commission natural areas/wildlife management areas to prevent
the spread of white-nose syndrome. The AGFC owns at least 83 caves on
four WMAs in Arkansas. The four AGFC areas that contain caves are
McIlroy Madison County, Gene Rush, Loafer's Glory and Harold E.
syndrome is thought to be transmitted primarily from bat to bat or
substrate to bat, but fungal spores may be inadvertently carried to
caves by humans on clothing and caving gear. The syndrome is not known
to pose a threat to humans, pets or livestock.
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. Bats play a key role in
keeping insects, including agricultural pests, mosquitoes and forest
pests, under control.
is associated with massive bat mortality in the northeastern and
mid-Atlantic United States. Since the winter of 2006-07, bat population
declines ranging from 80 percent to 97 percent have been documented at
surveyed hibernation areas that have been most severely affected.
Although exact numbers are difficult to determine, biologists estimate
that losses may exceed five million bats since 2007.
can help several of the species that are known to be impacted by
white-nose syndrome by building bat houses on their property. They can
be obtained commercially from many sources or they can be built by using
plans available on the AGFC's website at www.agfc.com/resources/Publications/building_bat_houses.pdf
Blanchard Springs Caverns near Mountain View remains open, all other
caves on the Ozark National Forest were closed in 2009. Decontamination
procedures were set in place at Blanchard Springs Caverns at that time
as recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These procedures
include a pre-screening questionnaire for cave visitors, decontamination
measures for visitors having visited a cave in a state positive for
white-nose syndrome, and limits on items that can be carried into the
involving the public in stemming the spread of this disease is an
important part of what we're doing at Blanchard Springs Caverns," said
Jim McCoy, District Ranger responsible for management of the popular
destination. "Bats play a key role in keeping insects, including
agricultural pests, mosquitoes and forest pests, under control. When
people tour the caverns and see that bats have gotten a bad rap, they
become a champion for their survival, and right now, bats need all the
champions they can get."
encourages owners of caves on private lands to also close their caves to
public access in order to protect bats. Cave explorers should check
with land owners and property managers to check status before visiting
any cave. All cave visitors should decontaminate clothing, footwear and
equipment before and after cave visits, following national WNS
decontamination protocols. The most up-to-date protocols can be found
efforts of the AGFC and its partners symbolize collaborative preparation
for and response to WNS by agencies and researchers, said Dr. Jeremy
Coleman, national white-nose syndrome coordinator for the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service. "This discovery of the fungus in Arkansas, while not
unanticipated, is an important contribution to the international effort
to understand and manage the spread of this disease and its impact on
bats," Coleman said.