White Nose Syndrome continues to kill off bats

bats with nose fungus

Bats with White Nose Syndrome in Hailes Cave in Albany County.

White Nose Syndrome -- the bat disease first identified in the Capital Region -- has killed as many as 6.7 million bats, according to recent estimates by biologists working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Since first being documented in 2006, the disease has now spread to 16 states -- and at many sites it's killed almost 100 percent of the bats. It has some biologists worried that some once-common varieties of bats could be facing extinction. [US FWS] [NYT]

The "white nose" in the syndrome's name refers to a fungus that grows on the face of the bats. Last fall researchers confirmed the fungus was responsible for the syndrome after 100 percent of the bats exposed to it in captivity developed the symptoms in a study. The fungus infects the bats' skin and causes lesions. [Nature News]

In 2010, New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation reported the White Nose Syndrome was likely in all bat caves in the state. The population of some species of bat had declined by 90 percent. [NYS DEC]

The disease was first identified in Howes Cave in Schoharie County -- it spread to other caves in the region and large bat die-offs followed.

Bats don't necessarily have the best reputation with a lot of humans, but they're an important part of the ecosystem because they eat huge numbers of insects -- including mosquitos.

photo: Nancy Heaslip, NYS DEC

Comments

In my house, the leading cause of bat deaths is by tennis racquet. Game, set, match.

Is there anything that the DEC suggests that a layperson (i.e. not a scientist) might do to help stop the spread?

When I was living in the mid-South, they closed the caves for hiking, etc because of fears of spreading the disease. Did that occur here in NY? (I haven't been back all that long).

Poor little guys. I know they aren't the most loved animals in the world, but as someone who gets eaten alive by mosquitoes each summer, I really do appreciate what bats do.
I'm with Rachel, is there anything that I can do that will help?

Rachel & Rebecca, NYSDEC refers people to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, who has a "What can I do to help?" page. You can find some additional links on the sidebar from there.

When the bats and bees are gone, so are we. Every time I read stories like this, I buy more ammo.

@Tim, PLEASE DON'T KILL BATS. EVER. If you find them in your house, they're easy enough to trap with a blanket or towel and then you can release them outside. If you're having problems with them getting in frequently, you should probably do some work to find and close up the openings they are using.
Like this article says, this area is ground zero for the bat's problems, and nearly all the little brown bats around here are gone (and they are one of the cutest species too). Other species don't seem to have as much susceptibility to the disease, so there is a possibility that they might be able to fill in the niche left by the little browns. If they are going to do that they need support, or at least to be left alone to do their thing.

@Rachel - NY caves have been closing down during the bats hibernation season for several years now. During the summer bats roost in caves less frequently and disturbing them is not really an issue as long as you are careful not to harm them. People in the caving community have been very sensitive to the need for decontamination when traveling between caves since the start of the problem as well. It seems likely that the disease is spread primarily by the bats themselves, although it is hypothesized that it was originally brought to this area by a person, perhaps from Europe where it is possible that this disease had already gone through their bat population years ago.

@Jiminy - There is some evidence that agricultural pesticides are a factor with the bees. [ http://news.discovery.com/earth/pesticide-bee-collapse-120111.html ] Buy organic (or local pesticide free)!

There is really no excuse for the tennis racket. Just open the window and leave the room. This has worked for over 5 bats in the last few years. (though I have seen no bats in the last 2) . Bats have echolocation. They can tell the window is open, and have no instinct against flying downwards when in trouble like birds do. A bird in your house is a real pain! They don't know you've opened 10 windows, they won't fly downward to get out, they just circle the ceiling, crashing into things.

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