A tri-colored bat shows signs of white-nose syndrome in Sitton's Cave at Cloudland Canyon State Park. Photo by Pete Pattavina/National Park Service
ATLANTA (WRCB) -- White nose syndrome, which has killed millions of bats in the eastern United States, has been confirmed for the first time in Georgia.
Wildlife officials from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that bats with white-nose syndrome were found recently at two caves in Dade County, GA.
About 15 tri-colored bats, with visible white-nose symptoms were found in a Lookout Mountain Cave at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in late last month.
On March 5, a group led by a Georgia DNR biologist also found tri-colored bats with visible symptoms in Sittons Cave at Cloudland Canyon State Park.
A bat from each northwest Georgia site was sent to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study in Athens. Histopathology (the microscopic study of tissue) confirmed both bats had white-nose syndrome.
The name describes a white fungus, Geomyces destructans, often found on the muzzles, ears and wings of infected bats. White-nose, or WNS, spreads mainly through bat-to-bat contact. There is no evidence it infects humans or other animals. But spores may be carried cave-to-cave by people on clothing or gear.
Other states that have had confirmed cases include: South Carolina Alabama Tennessee
"We've been expecting the discovery of WNS in Georgia after it was confirmed in Tennessee and Alabama counties last season," said Trina Morris, DNR wildlife biologist. "Still, I don't think anyone can prepare themselves to see it for the first time."
DNR is urging cavers to reduce trips to Georgia caves and follow federal guidelines for disinfecting clothes and gear. Sittons Cave is currently closed to the public for the winter to prevent disturbance to hibernating bats at the site. About 15 percent of Georgia's caves are on state-managed lands.
The National Park Service closed all caves at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park to the public in 2009 in an attempt to reduce the chance of importation of the white-nose pathogen. Park caves will remain closed to minimize the risk of spreading the disease to other areas.
Researchers estimate that a third of the some 1,600 live bats seen in the cave showed signs of white-nose.
Bats play a critical role in ecosystems, serving as a natural pest control that saves the U.S. agricultural industry at least $3 billion a year by eating insects, which can spread disease to people.
Saturday, May 25 2013 11:06 PM EDT2013-05-26 03:06:28 GMT
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