gear that was experimentally exposed in a known infected site. Another experiment introduced healthy bats from Wisconsin to two infected mines in Vermont, which no longer had bats. The mines were carefully screened to prevent bat exchange with the outside. Most of the new bats contracted WNS and died, so infected sites can remain infectious for long periods. See www.fws.gov/WhiteNoseSyndrome and www.fort.usgs.gov/WNS for information on WNS and decontamination.
In 2010, amphibian chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, was found in eight of 12 caves checked by Department biologists in southern Missouri. Five of seven species of frogs and salamanders were infected. This disease has killed many amphibians worldwide, but this was the first report from caves anywhere. Chytrid and WNS in caves point to the need to practice “clean caving” and decontamination as a precaution against the spread of wildlife diseases.
There is no cure for WNS yet, but researchers are studying medical treatments using known antifungal drugs. Two recent drug trials were unsuccessful. These tests must be done in a lab or controlled environment, not in a cave, because antifungal drugs can be toxic and no one wants to poison the cave environment and its many inhabitants. We are hopeful that a safe, contained treatment for the bats might be found through research, but it may be years before that happens.
What should landowners do if they have a bat cave on their property? About 500 Missouri caves are known to have bats, but that number may be as high as 5,000. About three-fourths of our caves are privately owned. The Conservation Department welcomes opportunities to collaborate with private landowners on cave management. Landowners are recommended to require cave visitors to decontaminate their clothing, boots and gear before entering a Missouri cave if their gear has been in any other cave before. Visitors also should not enter bat caves between early October and early May, to avoid disturbance of hibernating bats. Summer caves for gray bats also should be avoided. We can assist cave owners in protecting caves by surveying bat use of caves, providing signs, responding to trespass or vandalism issues, and possibly helping someone construct a cave gate or other type of protection. We can also introduce you to responsible cavers who might map the cave and photograph it for you.
The Value of Bats…
Nine of the 15 species of bats in Missouri are vulnerable