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Bats in Minnesota are dying of white-nose syndrome”; areas of state see dramatic decline

Minnesota officials said white-nose syndrome (wns) is a caused a “substantial” decrease in the number of bats in the state, making the population in at least one cave in southeastern Minnesota to a 94 percent decline.
(NYSDEC/Nancy Heaslip)

A fatal illness has a strong influence on the bat population in Minnesota, the state of the department of natural resources announced Thursday, with the warning that residents could see an increase of mosquitoes, moths and other insects without these winged creatures.

Officials said so-called “white-nose syndrome” (wns) is a caused a “substantial” decrease in the number of bats in the state, making the population in at least one cave in southeastern Minnesota to a 94 percent decline.

Wns, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), usually affects hibernating bats. A white fungus grows around the muzzle of the animal — hence the name — but it can also affect the wings, tail, and ears.

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“Although there is a rare hibernaculum in Minnesota, which is still not affected, wns is likely to be present anywhere bats spend the winter in the state,” Ed Quinn, DNR, natural resources program supervisor, said in a statement. At least four of the Minnesota’s species of bats hibernate, while the other four migrate.

Since the disease was first confirmed in Minnesota in 2015, wild animals officials have taken measures to prevent its spread, as people “accidentally carry mold spores to other caves on clothing and caving gear,” according to the Minnesota DNR, which listed wns does not pose a threat to people, pets or other animals, and wild animals.

“For a number of years, guided tours to the public of Sudan Underground Mine and Mystery Cave began with a short lesson on how to prevent the spread of wns. Both before and after the tours, the visitors are required to walk across special mats designed to remove spores from footwear, and they are advised not to wear the same clothes, footwear or clothing, during a visit to other caves and mines where bats may be present. Multiple washings in a standard washing machine is not sufficient disinfection,” the DNR explained.

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Bats serve an important role in maintaining the mosquito and moth populations, such as many species of these animals feed voraciously on insects,” the DNR says.

“Together with mosquitoes and other biting insects, bats also eat large numbers of butterflies. Some moths can cause damage to crops and vegetable gardens, and bat losses wns could lead to an increase in the use of pesticides,” the agency continued, brands some residents have told the DNR they have noticed that a “dramatic increase of mosquitoes” compared with before wns was identified in the state.

Wns has not only consequences for bats in Minnesota. In fact, the disease was first discovered in eastern New York in 2007. It has since spread to 33 states and seven Canadian provinces, according to the DNR, more than six million bats have died as a result.

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