Bats and White-Nose Syndrome

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In 2007, approximately 8,000 to 11,000 bats died in several New York caves, more than half of the wintering bat population in those caves. Cavers first noticed large numbers of dead bats around the mouth of one cave and reported it to wildlife officials in February 2006. Many of the dead bats had a white ring of fungus around their nose. Most affected hibernating bats in the region have white fungal growth on their ears, wings or nose. This condition is called White-nose Syndrome (WNS) and is associated with high bat mortality in the northeastern United States.

Today, the fungus is estimated to have killed over a million hibernating bat species in more than 15 states and 2 Canadian provinces.  Little brown bats, once a common bat in the area, are sustaining the largest number of deaths. A recent Department of Environmental Conservation survey shows a 93% decline of little brown bats in 23 caves at the epicenter of WNS. Currently five other hibernating bat species are affected by the fungus: big brown bat, northern myotis, tri-colored bat, eastern small-footed myotis and Indiana bat. The federally endangered Indiana bat has shown a decline of 53% in the epicenter caves. What is this fungus and how is it killing the bats?

Thats what many bat scientists are asking themselves as well. We still dont have all of the answers. The white fungus found on the bats is a cold loving fungus now scientifically called Geomyces destructans. Dead bats with the white nose have exhausted their fat reserves and the fungus is thought to be a causing agent. Recent research has shown that WNS-affected bats are awaking as often as every 3-4 days as opposed to the normal every 10-20 days. Unfortunately, about 90% of the bats affected perish due to starvation.

The bat conservation community is deeply concerned and involved in identifying the possible cause of the disease. The focus is to identify the cause of the outbreak and deaths, and to also learn how the fungus spreads. Recently WNS fungus has been found and identified in France. However it is yet unsure if the fungus came from Europe or has been transmitted from the U.S. Bat to bat transmission of WNS has been documented and a great amount of research is focusing on the mode of transmission and the cause of the fungus. Currently there is no cure for White Nose Syndrome. There is no information indicating that people have been affected after exposure to the white fungus.

© 2012 Organization for Bat Conservation