White Nose Syndrome: The Mysterious Bat-Killing Disease
Bats are well-known as creatures of the night and as something you will either love or hate. They have been associated with vampires, ghosts and death. Some people believe they are sacred or bring luck and happiness. Others believe they are trickster spirits or a bad omen to come across.
Whatever way you may view the bat, do it while you can because some bat species are fighting for their lives.
Research conducted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation shows that the mysterious White Nose Syndrome disease has been killing over 90% of bats that live in infected caves. The Little Brown Bat has suffered the most, with a 93% death rate in the 18 caves studied in Massachusetts, New York and Vermont. Another bat also severely hit by the disease is the Indiana Bat, which has suffered a 53% decrease and is already listed as an endangered species.
White Nose Syndrome was first identified in 2006, but it’s still unclear what causes it or if the syndrome is directly associated with all the deaths. At the very least, scientists found in 2008 that the white fungus found on a bat’s nose, ear and wing is part of the Geomyces genus. Unfortunately, that’s all they know of the disease so far. They’ve no idea what causes it, though guesses have ranged from pneumonia to environmental toxins to bat flies. They are also uncertain of how exactly the condition spreads from one bat or cave to the next. Because of this, even spelunkers have been asked to stay out of caves throughout the Northeastern states, as scientists don’t want to risk the possibility of the disease being spread from one cave to another.
One interesting thing to note is that White Nose Syndrome has been heavily compared to Colony Collapse Disorder—the strange malady that has devastated quite a number of honeybees. Even more interesting is that the first report of White Nose Syndrome came out around the same time the world was first hearing of Colony Collapse Disorder. Coincidence?
Currently, the US Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin—as well as other states, colleges and volunteers—are conducting ongoing studies of caves and carcasses. Other bats that have been infected with the disease include the Northern Long-Eared and the Eastern Pipistrelle. The USGS also put out a Wildlife Health Bulletin to state and private wildlife biologists to be on the lookout for dead bats and suspicious of potential causes. Dr. Kimberli Miller, a USGS wildlife disease specialist, stated:
“Anyone finding sick or dead bats should avoid handling them and should contact their state wildlife conservation agency or the nearest US Fish and Wildlife Service field office to report their observation.”
Along with the uncertainty of the cause of the disease or how to stop it, the bats face another problem: funding. People are less likely to fund a project to help a bat as they would be to help something like a tiger or sea lion. Even though bats are great at eating bugs and removing pests, they are not very well-liked by most. Without proper funds, scientists and volunteers can not do the amount of research or tests needed in order to save the bats. To find out more about the bats, White Nose Syndrome, and how you can help, check out these websites:
By Heidi Marshall