Researchers have identified the fungus as Pseudogymnoascus (formerly Geomyces) destructans, a European fungus previously unknown in the US. Populations of the tricolored bat, northern long-eared bat, small-footed bat, little brown bat, and the Indiana bat and gray bat (which are both protected by the Endangered Species Act) have all declined from deaths caused by WNS. The fungus has been found on another endangered bat, Southeastern myotis, but no deaths have been reported for this species. The tricolored bat, gray bat, and southeastern myotis all roost in Florida caves.
Why does this issue matter for Floridians? No cases of WNS have been found in Florida, but WNS is spreading and biologists now know that both bats and people can carry the spores of the fungus. Bats affected with WNS have been found in caves from eastern Canada south to Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. In Florida, we have three species of bats that often roost in caves and there is an active community of "cavers" - people who regularly explore caves. Cavers that travel and explore caves outside of Florida should follow U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines on equipment use. Caving equipment that has been used in WNS-affected or adjacent states should not be used in Florida, and cavers should disinfect equipment between visits to Florida caves. This can help slow the spread of WNS into caves in Florida. For additional information on WNS and decontamination protocols for caving equipment, go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.
Since the fungus that causes WNS has not been found in Florida, it is unlikely that the public will come in contact with bats that have been affected. However, signs of WNS can vary, and bats affected by WNS do not always have the white fungus, and may only appear emaciated or severely dehydrated. Other signs of WNS include bats flying outside or near cave openings during the day, and dead or dying bats on the ground, usually in the winter. There is no indication that people have been affected by WNS from exposure to the fungus or affected bats. Regardless, the public should never handle sick, injured, or dead bats.