Bat white-nose syndrome
Radio interview source: Ann Froschauer, White-Nose Expert, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Some species of bats hibernate over the winter and aren't supposed to be out of their caves during the colder months. But a disease called white-nose syndrome is waking them up. They're dehydrated, they're hungry, and they come out of their caves looking for food and water. Sometimes the fungus is visible on the bats. The white, powdery substance grows on their faces, wings, or tail membranes.
Ann Froschauer is a white nose expert for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She says the disease has a significant impact on bat populations.
"Some of the places that have had the disease for several years, the mortality rates in hibernating bats are well over 90%. In the northeastern U.S. where we've had the disease the longest, we estimate that we've probably lost over 85% of the overall population of hibernating bats in that area."
Bats are the primary predator of night-flying insects, providing natural pest control for crops and forested areas. Losing such a great number of bats can potentially have long-term effects in agriculture.
White-nose syndrome transmits between bats, but humans can also spread the disease with their clothing.
"Cave explorers that may be visiting caves and mines want to be aware that they should not be wearing their shoes in one cave and then going to another cave," says Froschauer. "They could potentially transfer that fungus with them. Decontamination protocols can help reduce the risk of that, although it doesn't completely eliminate the risk so some places have implemented cave closures. Check before you go out and visit a cave or mine to make sure that it's open for visitation."
Froschauer says you can help the bat population by providing bat houses and other habitat.
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