The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced this month that it found pseudogymnoascus destructans in Victoria County.
The fungus may be a mouthful for humans, but it is potentially deadly for bats.
It irritates the bats’ skin, causing them to rouse from their hibernation and deplete precious energy to preen themselves.
“Their bodies only weigh between 5 and 7 grams,” said Jonah Evans, the department’s mammalogist, “so they end up starving or leaving the hibernation site in search of food in the middle of winter and freezing to death.”
The Parks and Wildlife Department has been tracking the spread of the fungus since receiving a grant in 2015.
In February, the agency sent a biologist to Victoria County to swab 20 bats’ wings and muzzles. The biologist then sent the swabs to a lab, and one swab collected from a Mexican free-tailed bat came back positive for the fungus.
Evans said it will take several years for the fungus’ ill effects to manifest, so the department is wasting no time developing a treatment with its partners. And now that the department knows where large bat colonies are in the state, it can more efficiently treat them when the time comes.
Evans said this is a worthy endeavor for the department because the benefits of bats are still coming into focus.
For example, recent studies have shown that bats save Texas farmers $1.4 billion every year simply by eating insects that would otherwise eat up their profits.
People also have the Mexican long-nosed bat to thank when they take a shot of tequila. It is the primary pollinator for agave from which tequila is derived.
“So for a certain number of people, they’d be really bummed if that bat died,” Evans said.
He said it is for that reason and so many more that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will likely return to Victoria County next winter to see whether the fungus has spread to more than just one bat.