White-Nose Syndrome in Bats

Help Us Prevent White-Nose Syndrome from Killing our Bats in Central Oregon

Bats are an essential and beneficial part of the ecosystem. They play critical roles in insect control, plant pollination, seed dissemination, cave ecosystems, and provide food for other animals. There are 13 species of bats found in Central Oregon, most of which hibernate in caves. Over 250 caves occur on the Deschutes with hundreds more caves on adjacent private and Bureau of Land Management administered lands.

Something is killing whole wintering populations of bats in eastern North America as they hibernate in caves and mines. Bats are losing their fat reserves long before the winter is over and are dying of starvation. This affliction has been given the name white-nose syndrome (WNS) due to the telltale white fungus growing on the noses of some infected bats. Only recently described as a new fungal species, Geomyces destructans may also appear on the wings, ears, and/or tail membranes, but may also be absent.

White-nose syndrome (WNS) is not well understood and scientists are investigating all potential aspects of this mysterious disease. Geomyces destructans appears to infect hibernating bats as their bodies are cold and amenable to its growth. Infected bats may arouse from hibernation to attempt to deal with the fungal infection and in doing so prematurely burn up their fat stores and starve to death in midwinter. Affected bats have been observed flying outside during the day in winter, found dead or dying on the ground, or on buildings, trees or other structures during winter, or not arousing at all after being disturbed.

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Bat with White-Nose Syndrome

A Bat with White-Nose Syndrome

Adapted from the Western Bat Working Group website:

How White Nose Syndrome Is Spread in Bats

  • Bat to Bat – Bat to bat transmission of Geomyces destructans has been documented in lab conditions and the geographic pattern of spread appears to support lab findings. It is also possible that other unknown agents associated with WNS are spread bat to bat.
  • Cave to Humans to Bats – Aspects of the geographic spread suggest that humans may transmit WNS from infected sites to clean sites. This kind of spread is most likely occurring from clothing and equipment that are not properly cleaned/decontaminated between sites. Formal testing of human spread WNS is ongoing. It is critical that people assume responsibility for the potential spread of WNS.

What Can I Do to Help?

  • DO NOT use gear (equipment, helmets, ropes, clothes, lights, boots, packs, etc.) in caves or mines in central Oregon that have been used in states with documented WNS or the Geomyces destructans fungus (see map below).
  • Decontaminate (clean) all gear if caving in central Oregon. The Deschutes National Forest will issue guidelines in the coming year for caves or cave areas that require decontamination of gear. Until then, the Forest recommends that you decontaminate between cave visits.
  • Observe cave closure periods. Deschutes National Forest cave closure information: Public Cave Access Information or PDF (Print Format) version
  • Contact the Deschutes National Forest if you have questions about WNS, caves, or bats.

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Learn More about WNS and Decontamination of Gear, Boots, and Clothing