Fungus disease forces park to cancel bat watches

A mysterious white fungus is decimating bat populations at Devil’s Lake State Park.

The fungus, pseudogymnoascus destructans, causes a disease known as white-nose syndrome in cave-dwelling bats. First documented in the United States in 2006, the disease has since spread from New York to the Midwest and Eastern Canada, killing an estimated 6 million bats along the way, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Devil’s Lake State Park naturalist Sue Johansen said the disease has had a drastic effect on the park’s population of little brown bats. In one year, the number of brown bats living in the park bat condo dropped from more than 200 to fewer than 20, she said. The dramatic decline forced park officials to cancel its summer bat watches.

 Johansen said park officials first became aware of the drop in brown bats during a hiking event over Memorial Day weekend. Johansen and other hikers used iPads equipped with bat-finding technology to locate the winged, nocturnal creatures with sonar. But their search turned up few results.

“We hardly got any hits on our iPads with the bat-finder apps,” she said. “Then we thought we should really look in the houses to see what’s happening, and that was devastating to see.”


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