Bat population decimated in cave near Zortman used for hibernation

Fish, Wildlife & Parks

ZORTMAN – A recent survey of bats at Azure Cave in Phillips County found a significant population reduction since last year, likely due to white-nose syndrome (WNS).

Biologists from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Montana Natural Heritage Program and Bureau of Land Management conducted their regular winter survey in May. Azure Cave is a critical hibernating location for bats, hosting approximately 1,700 to 1,900 bats in a typical year. The May survey found a 98% reduction in bat numbers, with about 40 bats hibernating in the cave. Half of the remaining bats showed visible fungal growth associated with white-nose syndrome.

WNS is a fungal disease that has killed more than 6 million bats in North America since 2006. A powdery white fungus grows on the skin of hibernating bats, often on the face, leading to irritation and dehydration. This causes bats to arouse early from hibernation and exhaust fat stores they need to survive the winter, often leading to death.

WNS has been confirmed in 38 states and seven Canadian provinces. It can wipe out entire colonies of bats and has caused dramatic population declines for several species of bats in North America. Only bats are known to

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