Bat Fungus Wiping Out Our Flying Friends

 

I once shared my office with a bat. The little creature would fly in toward first light, circle around me as I typed away in the silence of morning, then hang in my storage closet until day’s end. When my husband discovered my friend, he conjured fears of rabies, fleas and feces. I gave in, reluctantly, and the bat had to find new sleeping quarters.

In the time the bat hung in my office, I read a lot about the flying mammals and realized what a blessing they are. We were on a farm. We needed bats to reduce the population of pests that feasted on our market gardens and livestock. They worked hard for us every night and asked nothing more than to be left alone.

Despite the myths about bats (blind, bloodsucking, hair tangling, rabid rodents), they are unbeatable eaters of pesky critters. Best of all, they work for free and do not harm the environment. No pesticide can make claims on either of those counts.

Scientists who study bats are making heartbreaking discoveries. This March, Canadian researchers waded through snow to check on 6,000 hibernating bats in New Brunswick. Last fall this was a healthy population. In March they found 1,200 corpses. A month later, 5,000 more were dead.

The deadly white-nose syndrome already swept through the eastern United States. Now bats in four Canadian provinces have added to a death toll that surpasses a million.  Science News quotes Boston University biologist Thomas Kunz, who calls it “the most devastating wildlife disease in recorded history.”

The fungus strikes when the bats are clustered in caves, hibernating through the cold winter. The tell-tale white patches have led to its being called “white-nose disease,” but the cold-loving fungus is pervasive. As it eats away the bats’ fat stores, they awaken too frequently, sometimes fly in search of food and water when it is not available, and ultimately die of starvation.

The environmental benefit of bats is enormous. Brown bats, who are heavily affected by white-nose syndrome, “can eat more than 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in just one hour.” Bat Conservation International credits bats not only with pest control but also with their critical role as pollinators and seed dispersers. A US Geological Survey report places their value to U.S. agriculture at a low of $3.7 billion to a high of $53 billion every year, solely from pest control.

Researchers are working against the clock to develop treatments. They worry their efforts may not be in time to ensure survival of the five species most affected. Science News reports, “Any recovery of American populations from white-nose syndrome, scientists now suspect, will take many decades if not a century or longer.”

In the meantime, the costs to agriculture and health (due to an increase in disease-bearing insects) will continue to mount.

Related Care2 Stories

 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Northeast Region via Flickr Creative Commons

107 comments

Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado3 years ago

Save our bats.

Johanna Veen
Johanna Veen4 years ago

Its Heartbreking

lis Gunn
lis Gunn5 years ago

I'm sorry to hear that our flying friends on the other side of the globe are under threat from the white nose fungus. However, bats here in Eastern Australia are posing a threat. They are carriers of the hendra virus which has already killed humans and some horses. Currently there is no vaccine for it although one seems to be in the pipeline. The transmission process is not well understood and there was the instance where a family pet dog was found to be carrying the virus and while showing no symptoms, was put down.

Earlier this year also, fruit bats were relocated from the Botanical Gardens in Sydney because there were so destructive to the plant life there. Everything possible was attempted, noises, alarms and so on but nothing worked. Eventually they were relocated, much to the chagrin of the residents in their new locale. Particularly those with fruit trees.

SeattleAnn S.
Ann S.5 years ago

Thanks so much for this article and for sharing the facts about bats with us. I have always had a high appreciation for bats as I am allergic to most biting/stinging insects, and as you stated, bats are the best at pest control. People tend to be very ignorant and scared of bats, sometimes grossly abusing them. I really like and acknowledge how you stated bats give us pest control for free and only want to be left alone in return. So true. They are noble, helpful creatures, and this fungus truly is devastating for the balance of nature and for humanity. After all, how many diseases are propagated by just the mosquitoes?

Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing this article :)

pete M.
peter m.5 years ago

They serve a useful purpose and co exist with us and nature around the world.

Laurie H.
Laurie H.5 years ago

I hope there will be a way to save these little animals! I can't imagine a world without them, or why the 1% voted the wrong way? Please do a follow up and bring us (good I hope) news. Many Thanks!!!!~!

Sandy G.
sandy g.5 years ago

Always the miserable, compassionless contingent make their voices heard in our forum; today it's the 1% who feel we should not try to research why the bats are dying.

Beverly G.
bev g.5 years ago

aaaah poor little things, they arr so lovely and cute. and furry

Laurie Greenberg
Laurie Greenberg5 years ago

Poor batty bats. I hope they find a cure.