Nfld. & Labrador

Deadly white-nose syndrome confirmed in Newfoundland bats

The deadly white-nose syndrome that has been decimating bat population across North America has been confirmed in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Disease has decimated bat population across North America

Researchers have been seeking cures for a deadly fungus that has decimated bat populations across North America. Now it has been confirmed in this province. (Wildlife Conservation Society Canada/Canadian Press)

The deadly white-nose syndrome that has decimated bat population across North America has been confirmed in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Three little brown myotis (bats) in western Newfoundland have the disease, according to the provincial Department of Fisheries and Land Resources.

One bat tested positive last summer, while another two had the same result this winter, according to Shelley Moores, a senior manager of wildlife research with the provincial government.

The syndrome is a fungal disease that has been linked to the mass death of hibernating bats in North America since 2006.

"It severely damages their wing tissue, it disrupts their water and electrolyte balance," Moores told CBC Radio's On the Go, adding it prompts bats to look for food and water in the winter, often resulting in death — since they should be hibernating. 

A bat in Nova Scotia with white-nose syndrome. There is currently no cure or containment for the disease. (Jordi Segers/Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative)

It gets its name from the white fungus that grows on the muzzle and body of hibernating bats.

Both the little brown myotis and the northern long-eared myotis are susceptible to white-nose syndrome in this province. Both species are listed as endangered.

Officials are asking the public to contact them if they see a sick or dead bat, but caution not to touch the bats with bare hands.

It's also important for humans not to enter bat hibernation sites, as spores of white-nose syndrome can be spread by humans. 

How it got here

Moores said the hope had been the Gulf of St. Lawrence would act as a protective barrier, keeping the disease off the island.

"We did expect that there was a potential for the disease to travel from Cape Breton to western Newfoundland. It could be how it showed up — we really can't say, it's one of those things we will never truly know," she said.

Moores said there have been no confirmed cases in Labrador yet and "all we can do is monitor those early spring arrivals."

Boxes like these have been installed on some Ontario homes by a biologist there to give bats a warm place to recover if they venture out in winter. (Chris Blomme)

She said it's hard to say how the bat population in the province will fare.

"We think there may be some potential for some of the populations to remain relatively isolated from others ... it's still a waiting game for us right now," Moores said.

And if it does hit the bat population hard, what those impacts could be are still anyone's guess.

"That's the big question ... bats are a very valued component of our ecosystem, they provide a lot of services to us in the role of pest control, they eat a lot of insects," she said.

"We're still going to have to wait and see."

With files from On the Go