Deadly fungus killing up to 99 % of local bat species; Mammoth Cave bats now endangered

MAMMOTH CAVE, Ky. – A local bat species is on the verge of extinction, threatening ecosystems as close as Mammoth Cave National Park.

Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources Nongame Program Coordinator Zack Couch said, “We’ve lost probably somewhere around 80 percent of our tricolored bats due to white-nose syndrome over the last about 10 or 15 years.”

One fungal disease is wiping out bats across North America.

Mammoth Cave National Park cave specialist Rick Toomey said “The Northern Long-eared [Bat], it’s killed 99 percent of those bats here at [Mammoth Cave National Park]. We functionally don’t have them left.”

White-nose syndrome has harmed or killed half of Mammoth Caves’ 13 bat species.

“Tricolored Bats, we’re losing 85 percent, Little Browns, we’re losing 90 percent,” continued Toomey.

The bats are extremely important to the park’s ecosystem: an apex predator to agricultural pests.

Toomey says researchers can’t see white-nose syndrome growing on the cave walls.

“White Nose Syndrome is a fungus that invades the skin of the bats while they’re hibernating.”

Here on the verge of near multi-species extinction, what’s the game plan?

“We can try and prevent people from helping move it faster than the bats are able to move it. Our cave floor might have these fungal spores on it,” explained Toomey. “We have [people touring the cave] walk over a mat with a soapy solution to try and wash those that fungus off of their shoes so they can’t then take it to another place.”

Also, U.S. Fish and Wildlife is trying to add Tricolored bats to the endangered species list.

Lastly, “We’ll continue to do the monitoring,” said Couch. “We’ll continue to do habitat projects and just make good bad habitats either for roosting or for foraging. Then hopefully in another 20 years or so we’ll see the fruits of that labor as the population begins to increase.”

You can click here to learn more about the newest endangered bat species proposal.