Just like Chronic Wasting Disease reaching Montana deer and elk a few years ago, now our state's colonies of bats are threatened by White-nose Syndrome (WNS), with the first dead bat infected by the disease found in Fallon County in southeastern Montana.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks sent the bat to the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center. The analysis showed the presence of Pseudogymnoascus destructans (PD), the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome. In a news release, officials said the disease causes a powdery white fungus on the face of the bat while it hibernates, which irritates the bat, causing it to wake up early, and they can't survive the winter. WNS has spread to 36 states and into Canada, since being discovered in 2006. A recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife study showed the disease killing over 90 percent of northern long-eared, little brown and tri-colored bat colonies in the last ten years.

The disease has caused the popular Lewis and Clark Caverns in Montana to require tourists to wear masks in portions of their tours this year, which start at the end of May. WNS is not known to infect humans, so instead of protecting humans from a bat disease, the mask is to prevent spread of disease to the bats, according to FWP.

Nongame wildlife bureau chief Kristina Smucker said in a news release, "Bats provide important services in protecting crops and timber from flying insect pests. Bats also eat tons of mosquitoes each year, meaning they play a role in reducing the spread of some mosquito-borne diseases. Like we do for all wildlife, we are doing what we can to keep bat populations healthy."

Jeremy Coleman of U.S. Fish and Wildlife said, "We continue to learn more about the dynamics of this disease and we will build the infrastructure we need to conserve native bats for future generations."

If you find a dead or sick bat, or a group of bats, don't touch them but call a local Montana FWP office for instructions. It might be White-nose Syndrome, but it could also be some other disease, officials warn.

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