It is quite possible that you have already heard about the White-nose Syndrome that is doing terrible damage to cave-dwelling bats in the USA, but what exactly is it!
According to the USGS, “White-nose syndrome (WNS) is an emergent disease of hibernating bats that has spread from the northeastern to the central United States at an alarming rate. Since the winter of 2007-2008, millions of insect-eating bats in 22 states and five Canadian provinces have died from this devastating disease. The disease is named for the white fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, that infects skin of the muzzle, ears, and wings of hibernating bats.”
White-nose syndrome was first discovered in North America in upstate New York in February 2006, in a cave adjoining a commercial cave visited by 200,000 people per year. The fungus appears to have been introduced to North America from Europe. It has been found on cave bats in 12 countries in Europe, where bats appear to be adapted to, and unaffected by, the fungus. Because bats do not travel between the continents, this strongly suggests the fungus was newly introduced to North America by people — likely cave visitors who transported it on their gear or clothing.
An estimated 6.7 million bats have died since 2006 because of an outbreak of white-nose syndrome. It has wiped out entire colonies and left caves littered with the bones of dead bats. The epidemic is considered the worst wildlife disease outbreak in North American history and shows no signs of slowing down. It threatens to drive some bats extinct and could do real harm to the pest-killing services that bats provide, worth billions of dollars each year, in the United States. [Source: Center for Biological Diversity]
The latest news articles on this disease are available from White-noseSyndrome.org, here, and this includes the fact that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is awarding $1.4 million in grants for work on the deadly bat disease, with a further $2 million available in a second round of grants.
What can you do to help?
The key things are:
Avoid possible spread of WNS by humans
- Stay out of caves and mines where bats are known – or suspected – to hibernate (hibernacula) in all states.
Honor cave closures and gated caves.
- Take a look at ‘Human Spread of White-Nose Syndrome: Why Decontamination is Important‘ poster.
- Take a look at For Cavers on the Service’s website.
Avoid disturbing bats
- Stay out of all hibernacula when bats are hibernating (winter).
- Report unusual bat behavior to your state natural resource agency, including bats flying during the day when they should be hibernating (December through March) and bats roosting in sunlight on the outside of structures. More difficult to discern is unusual behavior when bats are not hibernating (April through September); however, bats roosting in the sunlight or flying in the middle of the day would be unusual. Bats unable to fly or struggling to get off the ground would also be unusual.
(Compiled by Eddie Wren, from relevant websites)