AUSTIN (TPW)— Recent surveys in Texas for white-nose syndrome, a devastating fungal disease that has killed more than six million bats across eastern North America, found no evidence of the disease in the state.
Bat Conservation International conducted the surveys through a grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and in cooperation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of California in Santa Cruz.
Samples to test for the presence of the fungus that causes WNS were taken from caves in parts of the Texas Panhandle. This region was identified to be the most susceptible to harboring the disease. The tested caves were in Childress, Cottle and Hardeman counties.
BCI biologists swabbed cave walls and individual bats for the fungus. The majority of bats sampled were cave myotis, though Townsend's big-eared bats, tri-colored bats, and big brown bats were also encountered. This Texas effort is part of a larger national effort to monitor the spread of WNS as it continues to move westward across the United States.
In addition, a sample from Oklahoma that preliminary tests indicated was positive for the fungus responsible for causing WNS, has now been confirmed to be from a similar but harmless fungus. This was the only possible occurrence of WNS in Oklahoma and the state has now been removed from the list of areas with confirmed or suspected WNS. The nearest confirmed occurrence of WNS to Texas is now in north-central Arkansas.
Despite these glimmers of hope for Texas bats, WNS, first noticed in 2007 in New York, has since been confirmed in 25 states and five Canadian provinces. In some caves, 90-100 percent of the bats have died from the disease. Although the origin of the fungus is unknown, it has also been found in parts of Europe. There is no known cure at this time, though research is ongoing.
Bats play a crucial role in the environment through consuming insects, pollinating plants, and dispersing seeds. Some species of bats can consume as many as 1,000 insects an hour. Many of the insects eaten by bats consume agricultural plants. Researchers estimated that bats in the United States save farmers nearly $4 billion annually in prevented crop damage and reduced pesticide costs.
TPWD will continue to work with partner agencies and organizations to monitor Texas caves for WNS.