AUGUSTA — The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on Tuesday announced that white-nose syndrome, a disease that has killed more than 1 million bats in eastern North America, has arrived in Maine.
Until this year, Maine appeared to be insulated from white-nose syndrome. However, during surveys conducted by state biologists this spring, bats at two sites in Oxford County displayed visible signs of white-nose syndrome fungus on their wings and muzzles. Carcasses collected from one of the sites were sent to the U.S. Geological Survey-National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis., where the disease was confirmed.
White-nose syndrome was first documented in New York in 2006 and has since spread throughout the Northeast and Canada. Between 90 and 100 percent of hibernating bats in some hibernacula (caves and mines where bats hibernate) in the Northeast have died from white-nose.
With the addition of Maine, white-nose syndrome has been confirmed in 17 states and four Canadian provinces.
“We are saddened by the discovery of white-nose syndrome in Maine, the final New England state to confirm the presence of this devastating disease,” said Jeremy Coleman, national white-nose syndrome coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We will continue to work closely with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and our other partners to support research and management of the disease in Maine and across North America.”
Bat species that hibernate in mines or caves are susceptible to the disease. In Maine, those species are big brown bats, little brown bats, northern long-eared bats, tri-colored bats and eastern small-footed bats.
The disease is not harmful to humans, but scientists believe it is possible for people to transport fungal spores on clothing and gear.
Bats play a critical role in maintaining healthy ecosystems and have an enormous role in natural pest control. The 1 million little brown bats that have already died due to the disease would have eaten between 660 and 1,320 metric tons of insects a year. A recent study published in Science estimates that insect-eating bats save the U.S. agricultural industry at least $3 billion a year.
To help reduce the spread of white-nose syndrome, people are asked to not handle live or dead bats or enter caves or mines in during the winter hibernation months.
If you have bats roosting in your home or barn, experts advise you allow them to rear their pups and exit the structure at the end of the summer before closing off any entrance holes. Provide bats with a bat house for when they return next year.
For more information on white-nose syndrome in Maine, visit www.mefishwildlife.com or send an e-mail with your questions to [email protected]