Bad news about bats on what some consider their national holiday

Oct 31st, 2010 | By | Category: Featured Story, Wildlife

As a biologist with more than four decades of experience in the field, Thomas Kunz is not prone to over exaggeration. He likes the data to do the talking. But when it comes to describing the recent deaths of more than a million bats across the eastern United States he is unequivocal. “I’ve worked with bats over 45 years and never have I seen, or even known about, any kind of mortality rate comparable to what we’ve seen,” he says. “The analysis that we’ve done here indicates that bats – in at least the north-eastern US – are going to die out within 20 years.” Read this story on CommonDreams: Bat Disease Threatens Ecological Catastrophe | CommonDreams.org.

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection writes:

A silent invader moves rapidly through the darkness, reaching out to ensnare its peacefully sleeping victim. What may sound like the plot of the newest Halloween thriller is actually a real conservation horror story occurring right here in Connecticut.

In less than four years, white-nose syndrome (WNS) has killed thousands of Connecticut’s bats and more than a million bats throughout the Northeast. It has spread to over a dozen states and two Canadian provinces leaving a trail of ecological havoc in its wake.

“It is important to remember that bats are more than pop-culture icons or Halloween decorations,” said Rick Jacobson, Director, Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Wildlife Division.  “They are a key part of healthy ecosystems and provide tremendous economic benefits to agriculture and forestry through their insect control abilities. The Department of Environmental Protection, other state wildlife agencies in the Northeast, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many other academic and conservation partners are working in concert to find solutions and stop this unparalleled mortality.”

Several species of bats that call Connecticut home have been affected by white-nose syndrome. Known as “cave bats,” they include little brown, northern long-eared, tri-colored (pipistrelle), big brown, and the Indiana bat (a federally endangered species.)  Since 2007, the DEP has been an active participant in WNS response.  Biologists continue to monitor hibernating bats for signs of WNS and document mortality. Over the past two years, biologists have also begun tracking summer maternity colonies closely to see if WNS is having a negative impact on bat survival and the ability to give birth and raise young.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, through their Preventing Extinction Program, awarded $1.6 million to new projects aimed at detailed studies of the fungus associated with WNS.  Through the federal Competitive State Wildlife Grant program, the DEP and its counterparts in the Northeast received funding to address the growing problem of white-nose syndrome from a regional perspective. As part of this broadening effort, two research projects were selected this month for funding.  This research will target urgent needs—testing the safety and efficacy of non-invasive antifungal treatments; determining safe antifungal drug doses for affected bats; and determining if rehabilitated bats have successfully shed the fungus and can survive in clean sites without any regrowth of the fungus.

This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, released a national white-nose syndrome management plan for review.  The Service will accept public comments on the plan through December 26, 2010 to gather additional scientific and commercial information for consideration before the plan becomes final. The national plan along with more information on white-nose syndrome and related conservation efforts can be viewed at: www.fws.gov/WhiteNoseSyndrome

“White-nose syndrome continues to spread at an alarming pace through North America, increasing the challenges wildlife managers face in understanding the threats posed to bat populations and developing an effective management strategy,” said Jenny Dickson, Supervising Wildlife Biologist, CT DEP. “The national plan will provide a framework for coordinating white-nose syndrome investigation. Ultimately, we hope it will lead to the survival of bat species across North America.”

As cooler weather approaches and bats settle in to hibernate, the DEP encourages Connecticut residents to help in monitoring white-nose syndrome here at home.  Report bats found outdoors from November through February. While the characteristic white fuzzy fungal growth may not be readily visible on a bat’s nose, bats seen flying during the day or clinging to the outside of a building during late fall and winter are a sign that white-nose syndrome may be at work.

Sighting details including the date, location, what you observed, and digital photos if possible, may be submitted to Wildlife Technician, Christina Kocer at: christina.kocer@ct.gov or by calling your nearest Wildlife Division office.

And finally, please remember that cave etiquette is critical to reducing the spread of WNS.  If you visit a cave or mine in an area of the country affected by WNS, don’t wear or bring any of the same gear to other sites.

And from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Negative folklore and myth make it difficult to generate empathy and concern for bats even when it’s seriously warranted. So maybe Halloween is the perfect time to plead their case.

Since the winter of 2006, hibernating bats in parts of the East have been dying en masse. Intense research followed, but after four years, there are few answers.

White-nose syndrome, named for the white fungal halo that develops on the muzzle of afflicted bats, was first detected in a cave near Albany, N.Y., in 2006. Almost all the bats in that particular hibernation colony died. Victims of WNS are emaciated; they lack sufficient body fat to survive months of hibernation.

via Get Into Nature: White-nose Syndrome plagues Eastern bats.

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