Dr. Rich: The Battle For Bats

Many people don’t like bats. They think they are creepy, gross, or disease carriers. In my opinion, quite the opposite is true. Bats are amazing little mammals and are an invaluable component of our ecosystems. Bats are the primary predators of night-time insects like flying beetles and mosquitoes. A single bat can eat about one thousand insects every hour that they feed, which is usually three to six hours every night. By controlling insect populations, bats are critical to human health – for example, West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes. Insect-controlling bats also enable farmers to avoid the use of many pesticides, which keeps the environment cleaner and saves billions of dollars each year.

Since 2006, bats in North America have been dying off in alarming numbers. Abnormal bat behavior was first noticed in the winter of 2006-7, near a cave in eastern New York -- many bats were flying around the opening of the cave while snow was still on the ground. The bats should have been hibernating. Many more bats were already dead on the ground. Since then, such scenes have been repeated many times at many caves in the United States and Canada. What the bats had in common was white fuzz around their noses, ears, and on their wings. The name White-nose Syndrome (WNS) was born.

WNS has since spread through eastern North America as far west as the states of Arkansas and Missouri to date (2014 range map). The white fuzz is caused by a cold temperature-loving fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans (formerly Geomyces destructans). Around six million bats are thought to have died of WNS to date; 90-100% of the bats in a WNS-infected cave die. The disease is spreading rapidly and has the potential to infect at least half of the bat species found in North America. Some species of bats could possibly go extinct due to this disease.

If you are interested in learning more, then I would encourage you to watch the video “Battle For Bats: Surviving White Nose Syndrome”:

--Dr. Rich,Veterinary Fellow

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