The Shindle Iron Mine is located in rural central Pennsylvania. The site was brought to the attention of PA Game Commission biologists in 2003. The mine is short in length. A 6' high, 4' wide adit was driven about 350' before intersecting the target rock layer at a right angle. From this intersection, the mine branches a short distance, 100' both left and right. In this chamber, traditionally 2,000-2,500 bats could be found hibernating. A small stream flows through the mine and pools knee deep in the entire length of the entrance passage. The landowner requested the mine be gated and managed for bats in 2005. The population has been monitored bi-annually ever since, and the population has been stable.
In late December 2008, DeeAnn Reeder, a biologist with Bucknell University, and Greg Turner, a biologist with the PA Game Commission’s Wildlife Diversity Section, surveyed the bats in the Shindle Iron Mine. They were conducting field investigations into bat hibernation patterns that included weekly monitoring for White-nose Syndrome (WNS) presence in several Pennsylvania hibernacula. The bats in the iron mine exhibited some of the signs of WNS. Dozens of bats exhibited fungus around their muzzles and wing membranes, while many more displayed other symptoms associated with this disorder (e.g., roosting at the mine entrance, refusing to arouse, etc.). Several bats were submitted to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, which now is reporting that the bats have preliminarily tested positive for the cold-loving fungi found on many bats with WNS in other northeast states such as NY, VT, CT, MA, and NJ.
The photos below were taken during a January 29, 2009 visit to the mine. During this visit, the first mortalities were noted. About 10 bats were found dead in the water. The majority of bats have now moved within the first 150' of the entrance passage, a section of mine that traditionally did not have many hibernating bats present. Approximately 70% of the bats observed during the 29 January 2009 survey exhibited some visible fungus, a dramatic increase from just 15% a week or 10 days prior.
The prognosis for the bats in the Shindle Iron Mine is not good. Past mortality data from other WNS sites suggest that 60%-95% of the bats will not survive this winter. How WNS is spread is not yet fully understood, however it seems clear bats can transmit it themselves. As of this writing there has not been any indication the fungus is harmful to humans, but it may be possible that humans could inadvertently spread it to new sites across the country. Since Shindle is an access-controlled site with no visitation for the previous two years, some believe WNS at this site may have come from elsewhere. It could have been passed between bats at maternity colonies or during swarming behavior in the fall.