Fungus of fatal bat disease detected in the Northland

By KBJR News 1

October 25, 2013 Updated Oct 25, 2013 at 8:54 AM CDT

Tower, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- The fungus that results in White Nose Syndrome, a fatal disease in bats, has been detected from samples taken at the Soudan Underground Mine State Park on the Iron Range.

Managers at the Soudan Underground Mine State Park in Tower, Minnesota say samples are taken from 25 bats each season to see if the fungus that results in White Nose Syndrome has affected any of the bats in the cave.

"We've seen no evidence of White Nose Syndrome at this point yet," said Jim Essig, the manager of Minnesota State Parks.

However, testing procedures at the mine changed over the past year, and park managers retested samples from 2012.

Park officials say it's a good thing they did that because some of the samples came back positive for the fungus, prompting heightened precautions.

As a safety precaution, those who visit the mine have to wipe their feet on astro-turf before tours, to prevent the spread of any fungus.

The Park houses close to 12,000 bats, most of which are little brown bats, and if infected the disease could be fatal.

"It's anywhere from a 95-99% mortality rate for those bats, and little brown being the one that's the worst affected by it. So, for us it would mean us losing primarily almost our entire population of bats here," said James Pointer of the Soudan Underground Mine State park.

But not only would it wipe out the bat population... since bats eat their weight in insects, it would throw off the entire natural balance.

"Farmers would either have to start using more pesticides or they would start losing their crops, which would affect us at the grocery store," said Pointer.

The disease attacks the natural pest control mammals in hibernation, making winter a prime time for it to spread.

"When they hibernate they group together in this gigantic huge bunch and when one has it it'll start jumping from bat to bat to bat while they're hibernating," said Peter Pruett, operations director at the Lake Superior Zoo.

And while the disease doesn't infect humans, it still would affect us all.

When the disease attacks the bats in hibernation it awakens them depleting their fat storage.

Bats foraging for food prematurely may die from starvation or exposure.

Elsa Robins
erobins@kbjr.com