The Illinois Department of Natural Resources confirmed Thursday the presence of White-Nose Syndrome, a disease fatal to several bat species, in four Illinois counties — including Monroe County.
White-Nose Syndrome is not known to affect people, pets, or livestock, but is harmful or lethal to hibernating bats, killing 90 percent or more of some species of bats in caves where the fungus has lasted for a year or longer, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.Photo of a little brown bat. (courtesy http://mens-news.com)
Multiple agencies assisted in the discovery of White-Nose Syndrome, which was also detected in LaSalle County in north-central Illinois and Hardin and Pope Counties in southern Illinois in addition to Monroe County.
Little brown bats and northern long-eared bats from these counties were submitted for testing earlier this month. Laboratories confirmed the disease, while the fungal pathogen was isolated directly from a LaSalle County bat and a Monroe County bat at the University of Illinois’ Illinois Natural History Survey.
Pen Daubach of Clifftop — a volunteer organization of members that promote the conservation, preservation and protection of the Mississippi River bluffs in Monroe, Randolph and St. Clair counties — had this to say.
“This is discouraging news. Bats are wonderful helpers and perform valuable, though rarely recognized, ecological services for all of us,” she said. “This devastating disease is of great concern, as there is no known way to prevent or stop White-Nose Syndrome. The discovery in Monroe County bats saddens us, for bats are a part of the biodiversity that sustains our healthy and productive bluff lands.”
A total of 20 states, mostly in the eastern U.S., and five Canadian provinces have now been confirmed infected. Seven hibernating bat species are affected by WNS: little brown bat, big brown bat, northern long-eared bat, tri-colored bat, eastern small-footed bat, the endangered Indiana bat, and the endangered gray bat. The disease continues to spread rapidly and has the potential to infect at least half of the bat species found in North America.
A map of the current spread of White-Nose Syndrome can be found at .
Because Illinois and several other Midwestern states are home to many federally endangered bat species, as well as some of the largest hibernating bat populations in the country, the complete closure of all IDNR-owned and/or managed caves within Illinois was enacted in 2010. The IDNR will be evaluating these caves on an annual basis and the closure orders will remain in effect for the benefits of bat conservation until further notice.
Bats are the only major predator of night-flying insects and play a crucial role in the environment, researchers say. A single big brown bat can eat between 3,000 and 7,000 mosquitos in a night, with large populations of bats consuming thousands of tons of potentially harmful forest and agricultural pests annually.