Bats with white nose syndrome. [Al Hicks, N.Y. Department of Environmental Conservation]
BOSTON - Biologists have confirmed that a fungal infection killing bats in Vermont and New York State has spread to Western Massachusetts.
The bats are suffering from white nose syndrome, which makes it appear as if their faces were dipped in powdered sugar. The fungus can be seen growing on up to 10 percent of the affected bats. Up to 97 percent of the bats at some affected sites in New York have died.
After receiving reports last month from Vermont and New York about large numbers of bats dying in caves, biologists from the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated caves and mines in the region where colonies of bats are known to spend the winter.
They found bats flying outside of one of the state's largest mines in Chester when they should have been hibernating, and found dead bats near the entrance that were collected for further study.
Bats with crusting white fungus were first found in New York bat hibernacula, or winter sleeping quarters, last winter. It has spread to many of the largest New York hibernacula and to sites in Vermont and Massachusetts. New sites are still being reported. Of the eight species of bats currently found in Massachusetts, it appears that the bat species most affected by WNS include little brown, eastern pipistrelles and northern long-eared bats as well as the rare, state-listed small-footed bats. These bats hibernate in caves or mines. Big brown bats, which commonly hibernate in buildings, are not yet known to be affected. The red, hoary and silver-haired bats are migratory and apparently not affected.
Bats at affected sites have exhibited unusual behaviors: roosting in the light zone close to cave or mine entrances or on houses; dead bats or remains found outside, and flying during the day in very cold weather (15-20 degrees). Bats have been observed falling to the ground or crash landing and several have been found roosting in woodpiles. Autopsies have found the mammals' fat stores completely depleted, when they would normally last until the bats emerge in spring to feed.
Wildlife managers are concerned about the outbreak because bats congregate by the thousands in caves and mines to hibernate. If WNS is caused by an infectious agent, this behavior increases the potential that the disease will spread among hibernating bats. In addition, hibernating bats disperse in spring and migrate, sometimes hundreds of miles away, to spend the summer.
Last month, the Northeastern Cave Conservancy held an emergency meeting and voted to close all its caves to visitation until at least May 15, to help protect thousands of hibernating bats.
Bats are important predators of mosquitoes and other insects. A study from Boston University estimates that 14 to 15 tons of insects are consumed each summer by the 50,000 big brown bats that live within the bounds of Route 128 alone.
"High bat mortality is a major concern because bats have a low reproductive rate," said Thomas French, MassWildlife assistant director for natural heritage and endangered species. "Most bats raise one pup per year. It will take decades for bat populations to rebound after a large die-off."
It is not clear if white nose syndrome is a cause or a symptom of bat mortality. Nine universities, four or five federal agencies, state wildlife agencies and health departments from three states, and a host of other volunteers, researchers, and cavers are working together to gather data, understand this condition and to diagnose the cause.
Residents who see two or more bats flying before April 1 can contact MassWildlife by at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 508-389-6360. The "Homeowners Guide to Bats" can be picked up at MassWildlife offices or downloaded here.
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symptons are like the fungal disease you get from
bird/batdroppings - flu like symptons and respiratory problems and weight loss HISTOPLASMOSIS. Could it have affected the bats. Maybe the nose sympton is not the cause, but additional problem.
I adore bats. Hope you find solution soon. The mosquito populations will soar.
It sounds like the those New York bats have been snorting cocaine too much and expending alot of energy in the process without having enough insects to eat. If they are going to party that hard through the winter months, they should at least invite a few mosquitos to the party. Just joking.
On a srious note, if this "fungus" becomes widespread and bats throughout the US contract it in the summer months of 2008, it only goes to say that the summer of 2009 will be an extraordinarily buggy summer. With crops not being pollinated as normal by bees (most of the bees dying) and insects having a heyday with whatever does grow in 2009, does this sound like a coming famine. Little crops + big insect populations= famine. Is this a literal scenario?
to many people are undereducated about this disease if they kill of all the bats then what will eat the half million+ pounds of insects that every group of bats eat per night if we dont do something then they will begin to swarm houses and building and most importantly our food supplies =ing famine 4 those who dont know starvation if this happens then the lives we know will be over we will die!!