Experts fear spread of deadly bat disease into WisconsinA bat disease that has killed an estimated 6.7 million bats in the eastern United States and Canada has been discovered in Iowa's Maquoketa Caves State Park, just 30 miles from Wisconsin.
By: By Ron Seely, The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
A bat disease that has killed an estimated 6.7 million bats in the eastern United States and Canada has been discovered in Iowa's Maquoketa Caves State Park, just 30 miles from Wisconsin.
Wisconsin bat experts called the discovery a serious concern because of the proximity of the Iowa state park to southwest Wisconsin and its rich collection of caves favored by bats for hibernation. Dave Redell, a bat specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said the region has the highest concentration of such caves in the state.
The disease, called white nose syndrome, is caused by a fungus and has proved devastating to bat cave species in 19 states and four Canadian provinces. Wisconsin has four bat cave species that are vulnerable to the disease, which causes a telltale white growth on the noses of infected bats. The fungus weakens the bats so that they are unable to fly and find food and kills 70 to 100 percent of bats in contaminated caves.
Extensive surveys of more than 100 Wisconsin caves conducted by Redell and others over the winter turned up no evidence of the disease.
But Redell said the Maquoketa caves are very popular tourist sites, and research has shown that one of the most likely ways that the fungus is spread is on the clothing of people who visit or explore caves. He said the DNR has passed rules that prohibit both recreational cavers and tourists in caves and mines from bringing any gear or clothing into Wisconsin after it has been used in a cave outside the state.
Wisconsin has one of the highest concentrations of hibernating bat populations in the Midwest. Research has shown that bats from Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan -- perhaps as many as 300,000 bats -- winter here so a disease outbreak here could have an extensive impact. Bats are a crucial ally to humans because of their prodigious appetite for insects such as mosquitoes.
Redell said the discovery will likely prompt a change in the state's surveillance efforts, with caves nearer the Iowa discovery getting more attention.
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