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White Nose Syndrome in Bats is Having Drastic Effects

 

Healthy Little Brown Bats at Great Swamp NWR | Steve Byland
Healthy Little Brown Bats at Great Swamp NWR | Steve Byland

Happy Halloween! Who doesn’t love a good bat photo on Halloween? But to be honest, bats get a bad rap. Just because they are spooky looking and only come out at night, doesn’t mean they aren’t great animals to have around. In fact, bats are actually really important to the ecosystem. Bats eat insects that can damage our crops and ruin our gardens.

According to Paul Cryan, a bat ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, “People often ask why we should care about bats, and our research analysis strongly suggests that bats are saving us big bucks by gobbling up insects that eat or damage our crops. It is obviously beneficial that insectivorous bats are patrolling the skies at night above our fields and forests—and that these bats deserve help.” It is said that insect-eating bats save the agricultural industry at least $3 billion a year since they provide a free pest control service. Bats are found all over in refuges throughout the country. Some of which are Trinity River NWR, Fern Cave NWR, Aroostook NWR, Great Swamp NWR as shown in the photo, and many more! These bats help keep the refuge ecosystems balanced.

Unfortunately for these generally misunderstood and undervalued critters, the populations of hibernating bats are at risk of extinction due to the fungus causing disease known as white nose syndrome (WNS). Symptoms of WNS first appeared in hibernating bats in 2006 in upstate New York. Since then, the disease causing fungus has killed over 5 million bats in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and Canada. In the past seven years, populations in the Northeast have declined 99 percent.

A bat with white nose syndrome | USFWS
A bat with white nose syndrome | USFWS

White-nose syndrome is named for the white fungus that appears on the face, ears, wings, and feet of hibernating bats. The fungus penetrates tissues of the nose, mouth and wings of the bats which are all vital to the bats’ ability to avoid dehydration and maintain body temperature. The bats that are infected wake up more often than normal during hibernation, exhausting their limited energy reserves long before spring. This causes the bats to come out of hibernation severely underweight; often times these bats will starve to death post hibernation because they often emerge before their food supply does.  The disease thrives in low temperatures and high humidity which are conditions commonly found in the caves and mines where northern long-eared bats hibernate.

Now THAT’S scary!

In May of 2011 a National Plan for Assisting States, Federal Agencies, and Tribes in Managing White-Nose Syndrome in Bats was developed by a team of federal state, tribal, and non governmental partners to address the spread and impact of WNS.

To learn more about White-nose Syndrome, click here.

Infographic done by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Infographic done by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

 

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2013/10/white-nose-syndrome-in-bats-is-having-drastic-effects/