25 October 2010 Halloween isn’t as scary as White Nose Syndrome Posted by: Nilanga Jayasinghe | 3 comments | Share: Over the years, bats have gained a fearsome reputation due to their nocturnal behaviors and Dracula’s fame. But if you actually take a closer look, you’ll find that instead of looking scary, bats are actually quite cute! More important, they are vital members of the natural world because they pollinate plants and eat pest insects that damage crops. Bats with white nose syndrome What’s really scary is that many of those insect-eating bats in the Northeast are dying in large numbers from a mysterious disease called white nose syndrome (WNS), which is a fungal infection that affects hibernating bats in cave ecosystems. The fungus responsible for WNS is new to science and is named Geomyces destructens. A fuzzy white growth on the bats’ muzzles gives the disease its name, but the fungal growth has also been found on their ears, tails and the tender tissue of their wings. Scientists believe that bats are waking up more often during winter, perhaps as a result of the disease, and are dying because they use up all their already depleted fat reserves. Now what are the economic impacts of these bat die-offs? An average of one million bats, the number of estimated WNS fatalities to date, consume around 700 tons of insects, most of which are crop pests. So in the absence of these natural pest controllers, farmers will have to spend a lot more to manage the pest insects that affect their crops. Six species of bats have been affected by the disease, and little brown bats have taken the brunt of it. If the disease rages on at current levels, they will soon lose their status as the most abundant bat species in the U.S. WNS first drew public attention in 2006 when wildlife officials and cavers began to see hundreds of dead bats littering the floors of caves. Since then, it has spread so rapidly that it is now present in states all the way from Vermont to Missouri and Oklahoma – as of now, it has been documented in 13 states. Six species of bats have been affected by the disease, and little brown bats have taken the brunt of it. If the disease rages on at current levels, they will soon lose their status as the most abundant bat species in the U.S. Endangered species like Indiana and gray bats are also highly vulnerable to this disease, and since they hibernate in a few select colonies, it wouldn’t take much at all to drive these two species to extinction. While scientists continue to discover new information about the disease every day, there are still many unknowns. Extensive research is needed to answer these questions, and in turn, funding is necessary to carry out this research. You can help by writing to your Congress members and asking them to increase federal funding for WNS research. Find out more about this deadly disease in the latest issue of Defenders magazine. 3 Responses to “Halloween isn’t as scary as White Nose Syndrome” Post Your Comment Click here to cancel reply. Name (required) Mail (required) (will not be published) You May also be interested in Senate Wakes Up to Climate Change…At Least Some of Them Tonight more than 20 senators will be taking over the Senate floor to pull an all-nighter to “wake up” Congress to climate change. Wolf Weekly Wrap-Up Helicopter gunning kills 23 wolves in Idaho; Urge Secretary Jewell to abandon gray wolf delisting proposal — Call your representative by March 14; Washington wildlife agency urged to end support for abolishing federal wolf protections; The latest on Governor Otter’s wolf control board. Two Too Many Development Projects in the Ivanpah Valley While these projects most definitely directly impact a species that has been identified as threatened and is dependent on the habitat where they would be built, Silver State South and Stateline’s approval is most troubling for a bigger reason. You see, this isn’t just an issue for the Ivanpah Valley. Developers and agencies need to be conscious of how and where they plan energy projects all across the country. They need to look at renewable energy planning with a landscape-wide lens, understanding that building in the right places and making an effort to minimize environmental impacts from the start are essential.