White-nose Syndrome FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions about White-nose Syndrome

Cause and Species Effects

What is White-nose Syndrome (WNS)?

  • WNS is a fungal disease introduced recently to bat hibernacula in North America; it was first detected at a cave in the state of New York in 2006
  • It is spreading rapidly among bat populations in eastern Canada and US with devastating effects
  • Mortality at affected sites often exceeds 90% and millions of bats have died due to WNS since 2006

How does WNS affect bats?

  • The fungus, typically found on the nose or wings, irritates the bats and causes them to arouse (wake up) from hibernation
  • The fungus grows in bat skin and lets a lot of water escape through the damaged skin
  • Increased activity (when they should be sleeping) uses a lot of energy and there is no food (insects) available for bats to eat during the winter
  • Loss of water leads to dehydration
  • Bats die when they run out of energy and/or water

Does WNS affect humans or other species?

No, just bats.

Origin and Range

Where did the fungus come from?

The fungus came from caves in Europe. Scientists suspect that it was inadvertently transferred by humans, on clothing or equipment.

Bats in Europe seem to be able to live with the fungus. Scientists think many bats in Europe disappeared some time ago but others were able to develop immunity to WNS through exposure over a number of decades.

Once the fungus is established in a cave, fungal spores can transfer easily to bats, and then to other caves.

What is the current range of WNS?

Eastern North America:

  • Five Canadian provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and PEI
  • Over half of the states in the USA

WNS does not currently occur in western North America.

Prevention and Impact

Can WNS be treated or prevented?

  • At present, there is no successful treatment for bats with WNS
  • There is no way to successfully remove the fungus from caves
  • Considerable research is underway to better understand the fungus, its effect on bats and how to prevent or treat WNS
  • Prevention is the recommended approach in jurisdictions not yet affected by WNS

Why are bats important?

  • Collectively bats provide billions of dollars in economic and ecologic services to many ecosystems across North America and around the world
  • Forestry and agriculture bear considerable costs when bats are no longer available to control serious insect pests
  • Individual bats consume 50-100% of their body weight in insects each and every night; this translates to thousands of insects eaten by each bat each night
  • Loss of several million bats in eastern North America since 2006 is rippling through the ecosystem

Where can I learn more about WNS?

For the most current information, including a map of affected areas, visit:

What can I do to help bats?

  • Respect year-round cave closures of Cadomin and Wapiabi, where bats hibernate
  • If you find bats hibernating, do not disturb them; please advise any Fish and Wildlife or Parks office
  • Keep old trees and snags for bats to use as summer roosting sites – old buildings too
  • Keep wetlands because they support insects, which provide food for bats; wetlands also provide many other important ecological functions
  • Build a bat house
  • Tell your friends that bats are awesome!

For more information about Alberta bats, see:

 

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Posted: Nov 3, 2015