I recently accompanied a team of scientists into the dark crevices of the Red Hills as part of monitoring efforts for white-nose syndrome. Biologists from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism were conducting some of the annual monitoring for the fungus that causes this affliction in bats. The fungus is known as Pseudogymnoascus destructans. As of this writing, no white-nose syndrome has been confirmed in Kansas, but there are concerns. (SEE UPDATE BELOW) This syndrome has caused severe mortality in populations of some species, particularly in the northeastern states where it was first discovered in New York in 2006. Since then, the fungus and subsequent syndrome has spread to many states including the west coast. There is hope that the disease won't be that devastating to Kansas bats since there are no large hibernating colonies at least of species known to be more susceptible. However, there is still cause for concern and a certain protocol for spelunking in bat caves is recommended. The biologists follow decontamination guidelines utilizing a bleach solution after visitation to help prevent spread of any possible fungus. But, caving is not all seriousness. There are adventures, history, and stories. This episode includes all.
WHITE-NOSE SYNDROME UPDATE
Since this post, white-nose syndrome was confirmed to have infected bats in several caves in the Red Hills as well as a cave in southeast Kansas. While dead and infected bats were found in this most recent survey, the impacts on populations of most species in Kansas is not considered to be a major issue simply because overwintering populations of most vulnerable species are not large. The potential of spreading to other caves and possible impacts on sensitive species is still a concern. This places greater emphasis on utilizing decontamination practices for cavers as recommended: https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/resource/united-states-national-white-nose-syndrome-decontamination-protocol-april-12-2016
|KDWPT researchers venture into one of the largest of Red Hills caves|
in search of bats to test for white-nose syndrome.
|Sam and Zac depart the cavern after taking samples.|
|Dustin, Zac and Sam thoroughly clean all equipment and clothes with a bleach|
solution to kill any possible fungal hitchhikers after each cave visit.
|Swabs of wing membranes are taken from captured|
bats along with soil samples and sent to labs for testing.
|One of the caves visited was "Skunk Cave." The author ventured into this cave|
with long-time Red Hills bat expert Stan Roth many years ago and was
confronted by a not-too-friendly striped skunk. A quick exit ensued.
|However, for this visit, more time was spent investigating. Milling equipment|
was found near and in this cave. A few bats were observed here but the evidence of human
history was even more interesting.