Map showing extent of WNS occurrences in North America, March 2016. PA Game Commission (click to enlarge).
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a disease caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (formerly known as Geomyces destructans). The disease is estimated to have killed over six million bats in the eastern United States since 2006, and can kill up to 100% of bats in a colony during hibernation. Until recently, the disease had been spreading slowly in eastern North America from its point of origin in upstate New York. However in March 2016 a case of WNS was confirmed in a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) in Washington near North Bend (30 miles east of Seattle). This is a jump of about 1,300 miles from the previous western-most known occurrence of the disease in Nebraska and Minnesota.
The fungus grows on and in the skin of bats during winter hibernation, in some cases giving them a white, fuzzy appearance on the muzzle, wings and ears. The fungus invades deep skin tissues and causes extensive damage. Affected bats arouse more often during hibernation causing them to burn up fat reserves needed to sustain them through winter, leading to starvation and death. Wing damage may also cause problems with physiological processes such as blood circulation, thermoregulation, water balance, and gas exchange. Impairment of any or all these processes may also lead to death.
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