The first occurrence of white nose syndrome in bats in Ontario was confirmed in the winter of 2009-2010 in the Bancroft-Minden area, about 200 km west of Ottawa. There is no associated human health risk; however the syndrome has been linked to the deaths of a number of bats in Ontario and has had devastating effects on bat populations in hibernacula in the eastern US.
The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) is working with The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to monitor caves and abandoned mines where bats hibernate and identify any further occurrences.
White nose syndrome is a new condition that was first recognized in bats in New York State in the winter of 2006. The name of the disease refers to a ring of white fungus around the muzzles and elsewhere on the bodies of affected bats. The cause of this disease is not fully understood, but it is associated with the growth on the bats of a particular species of fungus: Pseudogymnoascus destructans which occurs during hibernation.
The disease, which was first discovered in 2006 in a cave near Albany, New York, has been associated with the death of 5.6 to 6.7 million bats in North America.
"It's a very significant threat," said John Dungavell, a wildlife health policy advisor with Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources. Dungavell said the disease may be transferred by physical contact among the bats, as well as carried by humans to various hibernation sites. The impact of the disease and how quickly it spreads can't be underestimated. Within 2 years, a site in New York, with the largest colony of Little Brown Bats in the world, dwindled from 200,000 to just 3000 bats.
"In terms of assessing the impact here in Canada, we have to look to the U.S.," said Dungavell, adding the mortality rate in the U.S. has been 80 to 99 per cent amongst infected bat caves. Dungavell stressed the importance of bats to wildlife diversity, as they contribute to insect population management.
The fungus is steadily moving west in Ontario and was found as far west as Terrace Bay, about 100 km east of Thunder Bay, on the shores of Lake Superior in 2014.
CWHC and MNR encourage the public to stay away from caves and to report any unusual bat mortality by calling 1-866-673-4781. The ministry is also advising the public not to touch any bats, as a small percentage carry rabies.
For more information about the disease in Ontario, please check the following websites.
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources WNS Update Page:
To learn more about White Nose Syndrome in general, please consult the following:
National Speleological Society
National Wildlife Health Centre, USGS
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is an emerging disease affecting bats in North America. It was first discovered in 2006 in a cave near Albany, New York, and since then, it has spread throughout north-eastern United States and Canada. WNS is caused by a fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans that grows in hibernacula during winter. Bats affected by the fungus awake more frequently from hibernation, which quickly reduces their energy reserves and lead them to die of exhaustion. Since its emergence in North America, WNS has killed between 5,7 and 6,7 million bats in the north-eastern U.S. and Canada.
The first occurrence of WNS in the province of Quebec was confirmed in March 2010 at the Caverne Laflèche in the Outaouais region. In 2013, WNS was documented throughout the west of the province, and was also found in Chibougamau in the North. No observation of WNS has yet been reported in the regions of Bas-Saint-Laurent, and Côte-Nord. The population declines have been drastic in several hibernacula in the province that sheltered populations of thousands of bats during the winter. Today, there are on average less than thirty bats per site and, in some cases, they have all disappeared.
The Ministère du Forêts, Faune et Parcs (MFFP) is very concerned about the consequences of WNS on bat populations. Since the discovery of WNS in United-States, the MFFP has been monitoring bat hibernacula to evaluate spring mortality and document the spread of the disease throughout the province. Communication tools and a guide to biosecurity and decontamination measures when visiting caves or mines have been produced to help slow the spread of WNS and increase public awareness about this issue. Acoustic surveys of bats and population counts at maternal colonies are also conducted during the summer to better monitor population trends.
The MFFP is seeking the collaboration of citizens to monitor bat population in the province. Citizens are invited to report observations of day-flying or dead bats between November and May by calling 1 877 346-6763. The public is also asked to help the MFFP to locate maternal colonies of bats during summer by filling a form available at http://www.mffp.gouv.qc.ca/faune/sante-maladies/syndrome-chauve-souris.jspThe ministry is also advising the public not to touch bats, as a small percentage may carry rabies.For more information about bats and the disease in Quebec please check the following website:
White-nose Syndrome (WNS) was first discovered in Atlantic Canada in March of 2011 in both New Brunswick (in a cave in Albert County near Moncton) and Nova Scotia (diagnosed in a day-flying bat near Brooklyn, Hants Co.). Since then, it has been documented within eight counties in New Brunswick, seven in Nova Scotia, and all three counties of Prince Edward Island (PEI).
In early February 2013, a dead bat was found in the Bonshaw area, west of Charlottetown, PEI, and diagnosed with WNS. Until this discovery, it was not known that bats over-wintered on PEI. The public is therefore crucial in contributing to WNS surveillance efforts within Canada and are asked to report any day-flying or dead bats that are found to the CWHC. Day-flying during the winter is considered to be an abnormal behavior exhibited by bats and may be indicative of the presence of an infected hibernaculum nearby.
Areas within Atlantic Canada are experiencing up to a 99% drop in their overwintering populations. Since these declines are so drastic, and the fungus is spreading quickly, we also ask that the public refrain from entering caves and abandoned mines. Not only could the fungus spread across the landscape more quickly, the disturbance to hibernating bats could be very detrimental to their health. Bats naturally rouse a few times during the winter to drink, however the frequent presence of humans will increase these arousals, and deplete the energetic resources required for bats to survive the entire winter season.
For more information about WNS, to report day-flying, sick or dead bats, or to report locations of summer or winter roosts, please contact the appropriate wildlife official in your area.
New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, NB
Prince Edward Island:
Wildlife Management Biologist
Forests, Fish and Wildlife Division
Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, Atlantic Region
Newfoundland and Labrador:
Endangered Species and BiodiversityWildlife Division
*Photos Courtesy of Karen Vanderwolf