The Michigan DNR is watching out for a fungal disease in bats that has just shown up in the state for the first time. It’s white-nose syndrome.
The fungus, and the disease caused by it, have been identified in Dickinson, Mackinac and Alpena counties. The disease was first documented in New York state in 2006. Since then, more than six million bats in the U.S have died from it.
“It’s unfortunate news,” Michigan DNR wildlife biologist Bill Scullon said. “It also means that we also join 25 other states that have this disease in their populations of bats, and it has moved extremely fast across the country, as far west as Oklahoma. Michigan and Wisconsin are the two latest states to announce that we have it. Probably we’re buffered somewhat by the Great Lakes and small bat populations.”
The DNR says summer bat populations are down by 70% or more in northeastern U.S. states, where white–nose syndrome has been present the longest.
There’s no known treatment. Even if there were, there’d be no way to deliver that treatment to affected bats.
“What we’re doing right now is, we’re continuing to monitor populations and trying to document the disease where it’s occurring and trying to identify those critical hibernacular (locations),” Scullon said. “In our case, it’s abandoned mines of any ownership — survey them, see what’s there, and if they need to be, develop some kind of protection mechanism, like a gate we construct there to keep the public safety but also (the safety of) the bats that use the sites.”
Bats living inside the Millie Mine in Iron Mountain have not been deemed affected so far. The DNR says they likely will be affected in the near future because of the frequency with which bats move around and the distances of up to 50 miles in which they like to roam. Big losses in the bat population could lead to an increase in pests that harm crops and trees.
The DNR says that if you find a dying or dead bat, the best thing you can do is leave it alone. Bat die-offs can be reported to the DNR online at michigan.gov/wildlife.