San Saba: Fatal fungus infecting species of Central Texas bats spreads

Mexican free-tailed bat. (Photo by J. Scott Altenbach, University of New Mexico via Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept.)
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) A fungus first identified in 2017 in the Panhandle now is spreading to other areas of the state, including Central Texas, with fatal results in bat colonies in San Saba County and in East and South Texas, experts say.

The fungus that causes a disease in bats called white nose syndrome was detected this year at 22 different testing sites in 16 counties, 11 of which were new to this study, a news release from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says.

The presence of the fungus now has been recorded in 21 counties overall.

TPWD first found the fungus in Texas in early 2017 in only six Panhandle counties.

The fungus affects only bats and is not transmissible to humans, the release says.

While the presence of the fungus is a concern, there were no confirmed cases of white nose syndrome found in the recent samples, but “Biologists say it usually takes a few years after detecting the fungus for the disease to manifest,” the release says.

The presence of fungus was found “on 43 cave myotis, four tri-colored bats, and 13 Mexican free-tailed bats,” the release said.

“No signs of WNS, the disease in bats caused by the fungus, were reported,” the release added.

“The amount the fungus has spread this year is concerning” said Jonah Evans, a TPWD mammologist.

“On the bright side, we have yet to observe any signs of white-nose syndrome and there is some hope that the disease won’t be as severe in Texas as it has been in states further north.

He said of main concern, the millions of Mexican free tailed bats, could be somewhat protected from the spread of the fungus “because Mexican free-tailed bats primarily migrate during the winter and fungus is deadly to bats that hibernate, we are hopeful that it won’t severely impact this species,” Evans said.

The syndrome has killed millions of hibernating bats in the eastern parts of the United States, raising national concern.

White-nose syndrome, caused by the fungus, has spread rapidly since its discovery in 2007 in New York, the TPWD says.

Experts believe the fungus came to the United States from Europe where bats seem to be resistant to the disease.

“Treatments for WNS are in early phases of development. Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas A&M, and Kennesaw University are collaborating on an effort to test treatments to prevent WNS on tri-colored bats roosting in culverts in East Texas this winter,” TPWD says.

“Bats play an important role in the ecosystem by consuming large numbers of insects.
“Recent studies have shown that the value of insect control by bats to agriculture is $1.4 billion annually in Texas alone and that value includes reduced crop loss to insect pests, reduced spread of crop diseases, and reduced need for pesticide application,” TPWD says.