DNR finds fungus deadly to bats in 2 parks

Published 3:53 pm Saturday, August 10, 2013

ST. PAUL — A fungus that can cause a deadly disease in bats has been detected in two popular Minnesota state parks.

The Department of Natural Resources said Friday that the fungus can lead to white-nose syndrome, which has devastated colonies in the eastern U.S. The fungus was detected in a cave at the Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park in southern Minnesota and at the Soudan Underground Mine State Park in northern Minnesota.

The DNR said the syndrome itself hasn’t been found among the bat population, but the fungus that can lead to it was found on four bats. The disease isn’t known to pose a threat to humans, pets, livestock or other wildlife.

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White-nose syndrome, which was first documented in New York in 2006, has rapidly spread across the eastern U.S. and Canada and has been found as far west as Oklahoma. Bats that have the disease, which is characterized by a white growth on their noses, exhibit uncharacteristic behavior during cold winter months, including flying outside during the day and clustering near the entrances of their caves.

Scientists are trying to find a way to control the disease, which has killed more than 5.7 million bats in eastern North America. In some colonies, also known as hibernacula, 90 to 100 percent of bats have died.

Bats provide an estimated $1.4 billion in savings to Minnesota farmers each year by providing pest control, according to a 2011 study. If Minnesota follows the pattern of the disease in other states, it’s likely to be present in Minnesota bats within two to three years.

“This is bad news for an important mammal in our ecosystem,” said Steve Hirsch, director of the DNR’s Ecological and Water Resources Division.

Mystery Cave, located in southeastern Minnesota, has about 2,300 bats. Soudan Underground Mine, in the northeastern part of the state, has 10,000 to 15,000 bats.