Biologists in the Smokies have confirmed that two different kinds of bats found in a park cave have white-nose syndrome, a life-threatening fungus.
White-nose syndrome has been responsible for the deaths of millions of bats in Eastern North America. It is named for a white fungus that forms on the faces of many infected bats. The disease causes bats to become restless during hibernation, moving about the cave and burning up fat reserves or losing body water they need to survive the winter. Expending the calories while they are supposed to be hibernating causes them to become emaciated, unable to make it through until spring when insects return. There is no known cure for the disease.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to 11 bat species and the largest hibernating population of the endangered Indiana bat in the state of Tennessee. Of the species that reside in the park, at least six of them that hibernate in park caves and mines are susceptible to the fungus.
In 2009 all 16 park caves and two mining complexes were closed to any public entry to delay the importation of the pathogen on visitors’ clothing or gear. Park caves will continue to remain closed to human access to minimize the chances of spreading the disease to other areas.
Park visitors should not handle dead bats or bats found to be acting abnormally. If you see a dead, sick or injured bat, call 865.436.1230.