Several hundred bats have been found dead at a northeast Minnesota state park after contracting the dreaded white-nose syndrome (WNS).
The disease, which is usually fatal to hibernating bats, has killed an estimated 5.7 million bats since it was first documented in New York in 2007 and has since spread to 27 states and five Canadian provinces, a news release says.
Though traces of the disease had been found, few bats have died from it in Minnesota. But that's changed after "several hundred" were found dead near the main entrance of the Lake Vermillion – Soudan Underground Mine State Park in late January, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says.
The state park was one of two found to have traces of white-nose syndrome in 2013, the other being Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park in southeast Minnesota, and it's typical for symptoms of the disease to appear in bats two to three years after the fungus is discovered.
"We've been following the recommended procedures to try to protect the bats from white-nose syndrome," Jim Essig, Lake Vermillion – Soudan Underground Mine State Park manager, said. "Now that it's here we will continue to do everything we can at our parks to prevent human transport of fungal spores to other sites."
The disease is mainly transmitted bat to bat, but humans can transmit it too by accidentally carrying fungal spores between caves on clothing and caving gear.
Visitors taking tours of the Soudan Underground Mine and the Mystery Cave will be given a brief talk before starting on how to prevent the spread of the disease. Special mats have also been installed designed to remove spores from footwear.
People can also help prevent the spread by reporting unusual bat behavior, installing bat houses, avoid disturbing bats and their habitat, and by not wearing the same clothing to different caves.
The DNR says Minnesota has seven bat species, four of which hibernate during the winter and are at the greatest risk of contracting the disease, which had a 90-100 percent mortality rate at hibernation sites in the northeastern United States.