WNS photos from Russell Cave

March 15, 2012

As you probably know, white-nose syndrome has unfortunately been found in Russell Cave in north Alabama. The team that discovered WNS took photos of some of the bats they saw. If you see a bat that looks anything like these, with white fuzzy fungus on their heads, bodies, or wings, please Report the Bat to us! If you’d like to look at high-resolution photos with really good detail, visit the FWS Flickr page.

All of these photos show infected tri-colored bats (Perimyotis subflavus) in Russell Cave, Alabama. All photos are by Dr. William E. Stone

Gear Decontamination Updates and Hot Water Decontamination

March 15, 2012

If you like to explore caves, now that WNS has unfortunately reached Alabama, it’s really important to thoroughly clean and decontaminate gear between trips. Luckily, researchers recently discovered a new method of cleaning gear that is much easier, much cheaper, and much safer on gear than using Lysol or bleach. Although the US Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t officially updated their decontamination protocols, they’ve included this method in their internal training materials, so it’s an accepted way to make sure your gear is clean.

Visit our Gear Decontamination web page for a full description of the different ways you can decon your gear, or this post will go into detail about the hot water method.

Step One: Get the Mud Off!
In layman’s terms, the way to start the decontamination process is to knock off as much excess mud as you can while you’re still at the cave entrance. Go back to your vehicle, get out a big trash bag and put everything in it. Seal it up and take it home.

Step Two: Wash Your Gear
Pre-clean your gear by hosing it down really well, trying to get all of the mud off. Use a soap solution (Pour 7 capfuls or 4 tablespoons of Woolite into one gallon of water) and scrub brush as needed and rinse with the hose. Then run it through the washing machine (use Woolite again and follow the label directions). After your gear is washed clean, soak your gear in one of the following decon recipes.

Step Three: Soak Your Gear in Hot Water
You may now soak your gear in hot water that is 122 degrees F (or 50 degrees C) for at least 15 minutes to decontaminate your gear. Many people have started to experiment with easy ways to soak gear in hot water. You may review a discussion about this technique on CaveChat. Ask a question if you like. Many washing machines will heat up water to more than 122F IF you make sure your hot water heater is set to a high temperature. Here are instructions for using the hot water method.

1. Get a thermometer that is reliable in hot water.

2. Put your gear in your washing machine and fill the machine with hot water.

3. Check the temperature periodically for 15 minutes to make sure the water gets above 122F and STAYS above 122F for at least 15 minutes.

4. If the water isn’t hot enough, adjust your hot water heater and try it again. Most hot water heaters have a small dial on the side where you can adjust the temperature. Consult your water heater user’s manual before changing the settings. In general, make sure to turn off the circuit breaker to the water heater before changing anything. Also look and see if there’s a Reset button you should press. After changing the hot water heater settings, fill up your washing machine again and check the water temperature for at least 15 minutes.

NOTE: You MUST make sure the water will get hot enough and stay hot enough for 15 minutes for this technique to work. If your water doesn’t get hot enough, you’ll have to use another method or try another way to get water hot enough for 15 minutes.

5. When you know that your water temperature is adequate for this method, deconning your gear is easy. If your washing machine doesn’t have a “soak” cycle, you can simply fill up your washing machine with hot water and turn it off. Put all of your gear in the hot water. You can add your vertical gear, clothes, kneepads, rope, helmet, boots, and anything that isn’t a sensitive electronic.

6. Soak your gear for at least 15 minutes. Longer won’t hurt. Check the water temperature periodically and make sure it’s above 122F.

7. When the soak is done, you may remove all of the items and let them dry. You may also just remove the large, bulky items, leave your clothing in the washing machine, and continue the wash cycle like normal.

8. You can reset your hot water heater to a lower temperature when you’re done. Just be sure to turn it back up the next time you need to decon!

Please NOTE: Dishwashers have NOT been tested. Dishwashers do not submerge gear, only get gear hot and wet. Some people say they’re cleaning gear in their dishwashers, but don’t do that until researchers know for sure it works. Besides, dishwashers are for dishes!

If you have tips or tricks to decon your gear with hot water, please let us know! This is still a new method and we’d like to hear how others are doing it.

White-Nose Syndrome of Bats Confirmed in Alabama

March 14, 2012

White-nose syndrome (WNS), the disease that has killed millions of bats in eastern North America, has been confirmed in bats in the Russell Cave complex in Jackson County, marking the arrival of the disease in Alabama.

“White-nose syndrome had been confirmed in several counties in Tennessee, but had yet to be discovered in Alabama until this year,” said Keith Hudson, a biologist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “This disease is likely one of the most significant disease threats to bat populations in Alabama due to its potential to affect multiple bat species and the devastating nature of the affliction. This disease is not known to affect humans.”

Although scientists have yet to fully understand white-nose syndrome, research has demonstrated the disease is caused by a newly discovered fungus, Geomyces  destructans, which often grows into white tufts on the muzzles of infected bats, giving the disease its name. White-nose syndrome was first detected in New York state in 2006 and has killed more than 5.5 million cave dwelling bats in eastern North America. Mortality rates of bats have reached almost 100 percent in multi-year infected caves. With the discovery of WNS in Alabama, a total of 17 states and four Canadian Provinces have now been confirmed with the disease. This finding in Alabama represents the southern-most occurrence of WNS in North America.

On March 1, 2012, a team of surveyors from Alabama A&M University and the National Park Service, coordinated by the Alabama Bat Working Group, were conducting a bat survey in Russell Cave in Jackson County where they saw numerous bats displaying symptomatic white patches of fungus on their skin. Two tri-colored bats and tissue samples from a Northern long-eared bat from the cave were sent to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study unit at the University of Georgia for testing, which confirmed the presence of white-nose syndrome. The Russell Cave complex is a cave system that spans several miles of cave passage, including entrances on private property, and Russell Cave National Monument is managed by the National Park Service.

“The National Park Service has been working closely with state and federal agencies and has implemented protection protocols to try and limit the spread of this deadly disease,” said John Bundy, Superintendent of Russell Cave National Monument. “Although the cave system has been closed for 10 years, access to the park’s archeological site remains open.”

“We have worked closely with Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Alabama Bat Working Group to prepare for white-nose syndrome,” said Mike Armstrong, USFWS Regional WNS Coordinator. “Now that it is confirmed here, we will continue to work with the state and our federal partners in their research and management of the disease.”

WNS is known to be transmitted primarily from bat to bat, but fungal spores may be inadvertently carried to caves by humans on clothing and caving gear. Cave visitors are encouraged to check with landowners before entering any caves or mines, and to follow U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decontamination protocols to reduce the risk of human assisted transport of fungal spores.

Bats are an important part of our nation’s ecosystems, and provide significant pest control services to American farmers. Insectivorous bats likely save the U.S. agricultural industry at least $3 billion dollars each year, or approximately $74 per acre for the average farmer. Alabama is home to 15 species of bats, including federally listed endangered Gray and Indiana bats.

White-nose syndrome does not pose a threat to humans, pets or livestock. Physical signs associated with WNS are a white fungus on the bat’s nose, wings, ears or tail membrane, although affected bats do not always have visible fungus. Bats afflicted with WNS often exhibit unusual behavior in winter, including clustering near hibernacula entrances. Affected bats also may leave their hibernacula during the day and may be observed flying or clinging to rocks outside or on nearby buildings. Dead or dying bats are often found on the ground near affected areas. To report unusual bat activity persons can use the Alabama Bat Working Group’s website at: https://alabamabatwg.wordpress.com/report-a-bat/.

For more information about white-nose syndrome, visit http://www.fws.gov/whitenosesyndrome.

For more information about bats in Alabama, visit http://www.outdooralabama.com/watchable-wildlife/what/mammals/Bats/ or https://alabamabatwg.wordpress.com/.

For more information about Russell Cave National Monument, visit http://www.nps.gov/ruca/index.htm

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Photos can be found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwshq/sets/72157629571015565/with/6976865221/

To download a photo:

  1. Choose the image you want from the set and click on it.
  2. Above the image, to the left you’ll see a drop-down menu labeled “Actions.” Click on it.
  3. Choose “View all sizes.”
  4. Select the size image you want and click on the download command.