By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynew.snet

The recent discovery in Oklahoma of a fungus affecting bats could spell trouble for Kansas bats, but the extent of that trouble might not become immediately known.

The fungus, responsible for what is called white nose syndrome, has been found in Woodward County, Okla., about 25 miles from Kansas' southern border, and not far from roosting sites of Kansas bats.

White nose syndrome was first identified in 2006 in New York and has been blamed for deaths of over-wintering cave bats.

The origin of the fungus is not yet known, but it has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of bats.

Now so close to Kansas, bats that inhabit the Sunflower state are in jeopardy.

The cave myotis bat is the most common bat in Kansas, and overwinter in small caves.

"They inhabit all the gypsum caves down in the Red Hills," said Curtis Schmidt, associate curator of herpetology at Sternberg Museum of Natural History. "At this point, they don't know what effect it will have on bats."

Likely, it will take a winter perhaps to see what effect the fungus might have on Kansas bats.

The fungus infects roosting bats in their winter areas, causing them to become active and use up the fat reserves they have in store before they emerge.

It's not known exactly how the disease causes death, although researchers think the growth of the fungus might be a symptom of bats in poor heath, possibly due to secondary pathogens or environmental contaminants, according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

Transmission of the disease is believed to be a result of bat-to-bat contact, according to KDWP. However, precautions should been taken to minimize the potential for other transmission methods. Anyone visiting caves should wear clean clothes and boots and use clean gear to avoid spreading the fungus from cave to cave.

Approximately 800 caves are known in Kansas, most small and on private land and some harbor bats. There are 15 species of bats in Kansas, including the gray myotis of extreme southeastern Kansas, which is on the federal endangered species list. The pallid and Townsend's big-eared bats are on the state's Species In Need of Conservation list. The infected bat found in Oklahoma was a cave myotis, the first of this species to be found infected. Pallid, Townsend's big-eared and cave myotis bats are found in the Red Hills region of southcentral Kansas. The cave myotis is the most common and occurs in the largest colonies.

A possible outbreak of white-nose syndrome in cave myotis poses a serious threat for this species. Currently there is no known method to stop the spread.