White-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats in North America. Now it has been found in Saskatchewan.

A deadly bat disease that has killed millions of bats in North America, nearly wiping out some species in eastern Canada, has been first discovered in a bat in Saskatchewan.

White-nose syndrome is a fungal infection that affects hibernating bats and has been spreading across North America since 2006.

Saskatchewan now has its first confirmed case with a bat in Grasslands National Park in the southwest of the province, Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment said in a Thursday Facebook post, « This which makes it more important than ever to report any bats found dead or on the ground. »

Trent Bollinger performed the autopsy on the bat, which was found in late May.

« This fungal infection contributed to the death of the animal, if not killed it, » said Bollinger, a veterinary wildlife pathologist with the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative and a professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

« When I looked at this bat, I could see fungal agents in the wing, extensive wing destruction, and bacteria that could lead to secondary infection. »

White nose syndrome

White nose syndrome starts with the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which can appear on the muzzle of bats and looks like white foam.

The fungus can then spread to the fur of bats, and it manifests while mammals are in hibernation, most often appearing in lesions on their wings, nose and ears.

Scientists believe the lesions dehydrate or irritate the bats, causing them to wake up from hibernation more often than usual and expend more energy.

Ultimately, infected bats may be too weak and may die from lack of energy, starvation, or other complications of disease.

Bollinger said infected bats are in poor condition when they emerge from hibernation and often die after emerging early or shortly after emerging from winter slumber.

« They can die of disease after hibernation due to wing damage, secondary bacterial infection, extremely poor body condition after the effects of white nose syndrome during the hibernation period. »

Bollinger confirmed this was the first report of the disease killing a bat in Saskatchewan, although he did not know if the bat hibernated in the province or migrated from elsewhere.

He said the national park is near places in North Dakota where the fungus has been found.

Little brown bats are declining

Mark Brigham, a bat scientist and biologist at the University of Regina, said the fungus responsible for white nose syndrome was first discovered in the province last year when testing guano (droppings) of bat.

If the disease spreads in the province, it could eradicate a significant number of affected species, Brigham said, including the federally endangered little brown myotis and northern myotis.

« Twenty years ago, before the disease reached North America, little brown bats would have been the most common species in North America. You can’t say that anymore, » Brigham said. , noting that the little brown myotis is one of eight known species in North America. Saskatchewan.

The disease was discovered in bats in western Manitoba in 2019 – at that time, the westernmost place where the infection was discovered in Canada.

Little brown bats, the most common bat species in Manitoba, were « absolutely crushed » by the disease, University of Winnipeg biologist Craig Willis said at the time.

“These are super common bats in this kind of agricultural and rural matrix where we probably depend on bats, to some degree, for pest control over crops,” he told CBC. in 2019. « So that’s a particular concern. »

White-nose syndrome has already reduced the known population of Little Brown Myotis and Northern Myotis species by more than 90% in some eastern provinces, including Ontario and Quebec.

This bat has White Nose Syndrome, a fungal infection that has killed millions of bats in North America. (US Fish and Wildlife Service)

According to an amendment to the Species at Risk Act, « these declines are considered by some experts to be the most rapid declines of mammals ever documented. »

The disease was introduced to the United States from Europe (and first discovered in North America in a cave near Albany, NY, in 2006), then to Canada in 2010. In 2012, it had already killed about seven million bats in North America.

There is no cure for the disease.

There is a silver lining to Saskatchewan’s dry climate, however, Brigham said. The fungus thrives in moist, cold areas, and while scientists aren’t sure exactly where these species hibernate in Saskatchewan, they’re hoping it’s in drier places than the eastern provinces of Canada.

Brigham said if bats enter hibernation in better shape with more body fat, they have a better chance of surviving the disease if they catch it. This means bats need more meals and eat insects.

« I know most people don’t like bugs and so…we spray pesticides, » he said.

« The best thing we can do is…deal with a few mosquitoes, put repellent on your skin, but just live with it, because many animals need flying insects to survive. »

The provincial government has said the disease is not transmissible to humans, but advises people to use gloves or a towel when moving a dead bat as it could carry other diseases.

They also recommend contacting the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative to report dead or sick bats.


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