June 6, 2023

New Mexico bats test positive for white-nose syndrome

White-nose syndrome, a fungus that has decimated bat populations in parts of the country, has been found in bats in New Mexico.

In late April, crews took samples from two dead bats and two living bats found in caves managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Lincoln and De Baca counties.

Both dead bats tested positive for white-nose syndrome and the samples from the living bats showed lesions consistent with the fungus that grows on the skin of the hibernating bats.

The fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, often grows on the bat’s face and can cause irritation and dehydration. This can lead bats to wake up early from hibernation and expend vital energy resources.

“Of the almost 30 species of bats known to occur in New Mexico, more than half are known or suspected to hibernate in the state during the winter,” James Stuart, non-game mammal specialist with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, said in a press release. “All these hibernating species are potentially vulnerable to WNS when they spend the winter in caves or mines where the Pd fungus has become established. We don’t yet know to what extent WNS will impact our New Mexico bat populations, but we will continue to support monitoring of bat populations and caves throughout New Mexico for the presence of WNS and Pd.”

The dead bats included a fringed myotis in Lincoln County and a cave myotis in De Baca County.

The live bats were both cave myotis bats found in Lincoln County.

The fungus has been found in New Mexico in the past, but this is the first time there has been evidence of white-nose syndrome in the state.

Related: Fungus that causes white-nose syndrome is found on bats in New Mexico caves

“With the collaboration of a great team of partners, BLM New Mexico has been monitoring its most significant winter bat caves for evidence of Pd since 2011,” BLM New Mexico’s Threatened and Endangered Species Program Lead Marikay Ramsey said in a press release. “We will continue to coordinate with our state, federal, tribal and non-governmental partners to test and implement prevention measures such as restricted access to affected caves to minimize the spread of the disease in New Mexico.” 

The fungus is primarily spread by bats, but humans can also take the fungus into caves.

State and federal wildlife officials are asking people to take precautions when recreating.

Those steps include not entering caves or mines that are closed, decontaminating footwear and cave gear before and after entering caves or other places where bats live, not touching bats, reporting sick or dead bats to local wildlife agencies, and checking canopies, umbrellas and other outdoor items for roosting bats to avoid accidentally transporting them.

Gear and clothing that have been used in areas where the fungus has been found or where white-nose syndrome has been detected should not be used in other areas.