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Environment & Science

Lethal Bat Fungus Found In Six Montana Counties

Little brown bat
Ann Froschauer
/
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Little brown bat

Montana wildlife officials have detected a fungus that causes a deadly bat disease in at least six counties.

Lauri Hanauska-Brown, the nongame wildlife management bureau chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), says the fungus that causes white nose syndrome in bats has been found in Sheridan, Daniels, Valley, Philips, Richland and Fallon counties since June.

“We have not to date found any sick or dead bats that appeared to die from white nose syndrome. It’s often a year or two after detection of the fungus before sick or dead bats are found,” Hanauska-Brown said.

White nose syndrome has killed 6.7 million bats in North America since its detection in New York in 2006. The fungus that causes the disease has been spreading west. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department reported white nose syndrome killed a cluster of little brown bats not far from Montana’s border in May.

Hanauska-Brown says FWP detected the fungus for the first time in June.

“We’ve sampled in 11 eastern and central Montana counties in the spring and early summer of 2020. Glacier National Park also sampled,” Hanauska-Brown said.

Hanauska-Brown says samples from Glacier came back negative. Results from one county were inconclusive and others are still pending.

While no cure currently exists for white nose syndrome, scientists around the world have been working on several experimental treatments.

“So one of the next steps for FWP as well as all of the partners is to encourage folks to conserve bat habitat so that bats that do survive the illness have a place to live and as bat populations rebound, there’s suitable and adequate habitat for them,” Hanauska-Brown said.

She says FWP and its partners plan to continue testing samples and monitoring bat populations. People who notice sick or dead bats or unusual behavior this winter should notify the agency.