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White-Nose Syndrome and Our Local Bats

September 6, 2010

Little Brown Bat with WNS. Picture by Marvin Moriarty, courtesy of USFWS. Image in the public domain.

Bats are awesome. I know they give some people the heebie jeebies, but they are fascinating critters that are highly intelligent, social, and provide great ecosystem benefits (anyone who is bitten by our voracious local mosquitoes should be a bat fan!). But our bats are in trouble — even some of the most common species.

A recent article in the journal Science predicts that white-nose syndrome (WNS) will cause regional extinctions of little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus), one of our most abundant local bat species. WNS is an emerging disease that has been hurting bat populations on the east coast since 2006. Many bat species hibernate in large numbers in caves and mines, and WNS seems to strike them in these places (where it’s likely easily transmitted from bat to bat). It’s associated with a white fungus which covers their heads (hence the name), although it’s not clear yet whether the fungus is the cause or a symptom of the disease. In any case, once it’s hit a hibernacula (the aforementioned caves and mines), it’s devastating to that population. In the bigger picture, the authors of this article predict that there is a 99% chance of regional extinction within 16 years throughout the eastern USA. Wow.

One of my favorite NGOs is Bat Conservation International, and they are actively working on WNS issues, trying to discover what’s causing the disease and how we can help our bat populations. If you’re interested in more information on WNS (or bats in general), take a look.

My favorite local bat-related organization is BatWorld NOVA, a bat rehabilitation center. It’s a great organization, and the director (Leslie Sturges) is also active in WNS work. Another great cause to support.

More about bats coming soon…

Frick, Winifred F., Pollack, Jacob F., Hicks, Alan C., Langwig, Kate E. Reynolds, D. Scott, Turner, Gregory G., Butchkoski, Calvin M., and Kunz, Thomas H. 2010. An emerging disease causes regional population collapse of a common North American bat species. Science 329:679-682.

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