white nose syndrome

Possible Good News For Bats

This spring, a possible cure for White-nose Syndrome was found by researchers at Georgia State University.

The disease is caused by a fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) that infects bats while they hibernate. The lowered metabolism of hibernation results in a compromised immune system that makes them susceptible to disease. They end up burning fat twice as fast as healthy bats as they try to fight off the infection. This leaves them without enough fat stores to make it through the winter, and they effectively “starve” to death.

Biologists discovered that the bacteria Rhodococcus rhodochrousin, common in soils across North America, produces volatile compounds when grown on cobalt that are able to stop the White-nose Syndrome fungus from growing. Some 150 bats have been cured during initial trials so far, and while it’s early days yet, this offers hope for the future of bats in North America. To date, White-nose Syndrome has caused the death of some 6 million bats of 11 species, including some listed as endangered.

Little Brown Bats (Myotis lucifugus, shown with the powdered white skin characteristic of the disease), once common, have suffered around 94% mortality in the eastern half of the country. The fungus is thought to have originated in Europe, where it has been found in bats there that are healthy and apparently immune.

photo by Marvin Moriarty/USFWS

(via: Peterson Field Guides)

How does white-nose syndrome kill bats?

For the first time, scientists have developed a detailed explanation of how white-nose syndrome (WNS) is killing millions of bats in North America, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Wisconsin. The scientists created a model for how the disease progresses from initial infection to death in bats during hibernation.

“This model is exciting for us, because we now have a framework for understanding how the disease functions within a bat,” said University of Wisconsin and USGS National Wildlife Health Center scientist Michelle Verant, the lead author of the study. “The mechanisms detailed in this model will be critical for properly timed and effective disease mitigation strategies.”

Scientists hypothesized that WNS, caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, makes bats die by increasing the amount of energy they use during winter hibernation. Bats must carefully ration their energy supply during this time to survive without eating until spring. If they use up their limited energy reserves too quickly, they can die.

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Three species of bats added to Ottawa’s endangered animals list

The federal government has listed three species of bats whose populations have been decimated by a highly contagious fungal disease as endangered animals under the Species at Risk Act, but some scientists worry that extensive bureaucratic delays may have already sealed their fate, as well as the dozens that wait for the same legal protection.

The three species – little brown bats, northern long-eared bats, and tri-coloured bats – have seen their populations reduced by 94 per cent since 2010 due to white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease transferred from Europe to the east coast of North America in 2006.

“I think the concern is epitomized by little brown bats,” said Brock Fenton, a professor emeritus of behaviour and ecology of bats at Western University. He said that before the disease spread, the little brown bats species was one of the most common mammals in North America, with more than six million in the American northeast. Now, there are virtually none left in the provinces where white-nose syndrome has spread: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

“If you lose millions of them from the population, there’s not much potential for the population to rebound in any kind of a hurry,” Mr. Fenton said.

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White-nose syndrome (WNS) is an emergent disease of hibernating bats that has spread from the northeastern to the central United States at an alarming rate. Since the winter of 2007-2008, millions of insect-eating bats in 19 states and four Canadian provinces have died from this devastating disease. The disease is named for the white fungus, Geomyces destructans, that infects skin of the muzzle, ears, and wings of hibernating bats. 

Current estimates of bat population declines in the northeastern US since the emergence of WNS are approximately 80%. This sudden and widespread mortality associated with WNS is unprecedented in hibernating bats, among which disease outbreaks have not been previously documented. It is unlikely that species of bats affected by WNS will recover quickly because most are long-lived and have only a single pup per year. Consequently, even in the absence of disease, bat populations do not fluctuate widely in numbers over time.

The true ecological consequences of large-scale population reductions currently under way among hibernating bats are not yet known. However, farmers might feel the impact. In temperate regions, bats are primary consumers of insects, and a recent economic analysis indicated that insect suppression services (ecosystem services) provided by bats to U.S. agriculture is valued between 4 to 50 billion dollars per year.

Despite efforts to contain it, WNS continues to spread. Within the last two years, the disease has been confirmed in several central states, including Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri. High mortality of bats has not yet been reported at these locations, and it remains to be seen if WNS will develop and manifest in warmer parts of the US or other temperate regions of the world with severity similar to that in the northeastern US. 

^This really is a serious and rapidly spreading problem for bats; the species affected are those that hibernate in large aggregations during the winter.  The cool, moist conditions of caves (where affected species tend to hibernate) facilitates the growth of the fungus.  Because the bats are hibernating, their immune systems do not respond to the fungus and thus when infected bats emerge from hibernation (usually prematurely when resource availability is low) they are often so compromised that they do not survive. The mortality rates are so high that certain species (such as the Little Brown Bat) are at risk of extinction. The high mortality rates is causing a bottleneck effect and hence reducing the genetic variation within populations.  

It’s thought that this fungus was spread from Europe by people who explore/visit caves, so PLEASE try to avoid exploring caves, because you might be spreading this fungus!

A Disease That Is Wiping Out Bats Spreads Across the U.S.
A deadly fungal disease called white-nose syndrome is wreaking havoc on North American bat populations, spreading farther and faster last year than ever before, according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center. The result: a severe, accelerated loss of bats in

It’s critical that cave explorers and spelunkers follow U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protocols when entering and exiting caves. Doing so will help us stop the spread of deadly White-nose Syndrome.


Cave and Karst Training Promotes Protection of Fragile Resources  

The BLM manages over 1,500 caves and karst (an area of limestone terrain characterized by sinks, ravines, and underground streams) in eleven states across the west.

Last week, ten BLM and three U.S. Forest Service Outdoor Recreation Specialists participated in a full-day training session on Cave & Karst Management, led by two BLM cave specialists. The course included a short classroom session about the Federal Cave Protection Act of 1988 and other Cave/Karst Management laws, regulations, policies and procedures as well as the background and policies specific to preventing the spread of White Nose Syndrome among bat colonies.

For the field portion of the training, the group visited a lava tube east of Bend, Oregon. They looked for evidence that the cave meets the criteria for “Significant Cave status under the Federal Cave Protection Act.“  Prior to leaving the site, the group practiced decontamination procedures designed to prevent any spread of WNS from cave to cave.  

CLICK HERE to view all photos from the training, and to read about the management techniques BLM uses to balance land use activities and the protection of the nation’s fragile cave and karst resources.

Bats of the Big Desert

A group of Townsend’s big-eared bats huddle together during hibernation.

Driving west of Idaho Falls, Idaho, is a vast expanse of land - covered in various vegetation, sagebrush, historic lava flows and volcanic extrusions. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like much. But underneath, it houses perhaps one of the most biologically-significant features of the Big Desert - lava tube caves that provide a unique habitat for bats.

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Bats Are Crashing – Help Save Them

Throughout North America bats face a wide range of threats – from human disturbance to habitat loss and pollution. But white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that first struck this continent in 2006, is the most devastating and dramatic danger our bats have ever known.

So far seven different species of bats have been affected by the epidemic – which has spread across 22 states and five Canadian provinces. Some afflicted populations have lost more than 90 percent of their bats.

To learn more and help them please go here: http://action.biologicaldiversity.org/o/2167/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=14544

Good news for bats: Disease spread slowing down

The bat disease known as white-nose syndrome has been spreading fast, killing millions of animals. But for the first time, scientists are seeing hopeful signs that some bat colonies are recovering and new breakthroughs could help researchers develop better strategies for helping bats survive.

Read more. 

A little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) exhibiting the symptoms of white-nose sydrome. Photo Credit: New York Department of Environmental Conservation

White nose syndrome is almost always fatal. (Cue word rant when it’s referred to as decimation in the articles, decimation would be a vast improvement, this is devastation.)

They’re so small and cute I want to snuggle them and tell them it’ll be alright.

The Real Horror Story Would Be If Bats Disappear

By Director Dan Ashe, USFWS

Especially around Halloween, we revel in creepy myths about deadly blood-sucking bats, mean creatures that fly into people’s hair and vampires that turn into bats.  I won’t deny it’s fun.

A bat with White-nose Syndrome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (USFWS)

But we tend to forget how much bats do for us – pollinating crops, eating pests that disturb crops and forests, teaching the military about flight. And we ignore how much danger bats are in.

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white-nosesyndrome.org and Bat Conservation International both have some tips on what people can to do help check the spread of white-nose. I’ll repeat batcon’s here:

  • Encourage your state and federal legislators to allocate funding towards the effort to understand and fight White-nose Syndrome. 
  • Report unusual late-winter bat behavior (bats flying during the daytime, for example) or unexplained bat deaths to your state wildlife agency.
  • Adhere to state, federal and local cave advisories and closures to help us prevent the transmission of White-nose Syndrome. 
  • Educate your friends and families about the benefits of bats and the White-nose Syndrome crisis. 
  • Follow decontamination guidelines when caving and catching bats. Never bring gear from a WNS-positive state to a WNS-negative state.

Batcon is a good place to donate, as they help fund a lot of research grants to stop WNS. I suppose what you could do in your own backyard is maintain forested areas, wetlands, and ponds, since that is ideal bat habitat (lots of mosquitos and other tasties). Reduce outdoor lighting if you can, and you can always consider putting up a bat house.

Oh, and during the summer bats often roost under the loose bark of dead/dying trees, so if you’re taking one down, try observing it for a few nights beforehand. It may be a valuable roost.

Unfortunately there’s really not all that much we can do right now… the spread of white nose is so rapid and pervasive that scientists are still scrambling to come up with ways to treat/prevent it. (Here is a list of abstracts of some of the most recent studies done on WNS.)

And in the meantime, millions of bats have already died. It is horrifying to think that at the rate the die-off is happening, the little brown bat, once one of the most populous species in the U.S., might soon become an endangered species. Or even extinct.

The biologists I worked with when I was a bat technician did not even talk about ‘ifs’ in terms of bat species going extinct. It was when. I’ve read one description of stepping into a hibernaculum affected by WNS as looking “like thousands of pine needles” were on the cave floor. Bat bones.

There are some measures, such as spraying hibernating bats with a form of fungicide, and introducing artificial hibernation sites, that have been attempted, but the results have mostly been failure. Doing anything to disturb hibernating bats has the unintended consequences of waking them up, which is what we are trying to prevent, and bats are reluctant to hibernate in artificial caves- and even then tiny spores of the fungus can still manage to creep in.

And then of course humans are still spreading the fungus, and there has been a very stupid dispute between cavers and bat biologists, both accusing the other of being the source of the spread. I don’t doubt that both are partially to blame, but both need to step up their decontamination measures. 

But of course, the biggest spreader of WNS is not the humans, it is the bats themselves, huddling close together for warmth, and there is extremely little we can do to stop that. 

I hate to leave a post on such a glum note, but this is something I feel pretty sad about. I love bats. I hate knowing that my species has done something that is devastating their populations like this.

(This post made rebloggable by request.)

7 Million Bats Killed By White Nose Syndrome: How You Can Help

This is an issue very dear to my heart. Years ago I used to live on an island in the North filled with bats. Over the years I have watched their numbers dwindle.

Part of this is due to tourists. People that aren’t used to bats often worry that they are going to fly into their hair or attack them.  The chances of this happening are so slim it’s almost nonexistent. So sometimes people squish them. They spray them with bug spray. (Extra crazy considering the little guys do a marvelous job keeping bugs away from us) They scream and flail about when they fly overhead. But the bats aren’t interested in you. They are shy and (understandably) scared of people. They would occasionally cling to a window screen or nestle in an archway, but they don’t bother people even when they are being poked with sticks or being surrounded by flashbulbs and clicking cameras. 

White nose syndrome is very serious. It’s wiping them out. We need bats. They are a vital part of the ecosystem. These little guys provide billions in free pest removal services. (Seriously. They eat bugs. Want less mosquitos? Advocate for the bats!) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been warned about the severity of the situation but have yet to take any serious action.  Defenders of Wildlife are asking to have the Northern Long Eared Bat listed as endangered. While although there is presently no cure for white nose syndrome, the protection this would provide would extend to to their habitats in an effort to better study and preserve them. 


This Week in Bats 6/26/2015 

( generalmotorscoChevrolet Races to Save the Bats with NASCAR Fans: In collaboration with NASCAR Green, our Chevrolet Racing team and sustainability experts assembled a pit crew of 50 little NASCAR fans during a recent race at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania to build 15 bat boxes.We’ve been building these structures for more than five years now and have more than 700 nesting boxes installed at our 40 wildlife habitat sites and on various public and private lands across the U.S. and Canada, and our efforts have been ramped up due to a disease called white nose syndrome that’s killing bats at a fast rate throughout the U.S. and beyond. Read more. 

( phys.org ) Volunteers Help Track Endangered, Enigmatic Bonneted Bat: The mysterious Florida bonneted bat, a creature so elusive that biologists know of only one roost in the wild, is actually a chatterbox, far easier to hear than see. And for that information we can thank citizen scientists. Over the past year, they recorded thousands of calls, erected bat boxes and scoured the county to paint a new picture of the under-appreciated bats and lift the veil on one of the state’s most critically endangered species. Read more. 

( phys.org ) Snake Fungal Disease Parallels White-nose Syndrome in Bats: A deadly fungal infection afflicting snakes is eerily similar to the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats, researchers report. Although Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola (the snake fungus) and Pseudogymnoascus destructans (the bat fungus) inhabit different ecological niches and thrive at different temperature and humidity ranges, the fungi share basic traits that allow them to persist across a range of habitats and infect multiple species, the researchers report in the journal Fungal Ecology. Read more. 

( iflscience ) Giant Bat Walked On All Fours 16 Million Years Ago in New Zealand: Researchers studying 16-million-year-old sediment in New Zealand have discovered a new extinct bat species that walked on all four limbs. And it would have been at least three times larger than today’s average bat. The findings were published in PLoS One this week. In New Zealand’s old growth rainforests today, there are two species of native Mystacinabats, including Mystacina tuberculata (pictured above). These semi-terrestrial critters are known as burrowing bats because they forage under leaf litter and snow—scrambling along the ground on their wrists and feet (which face backwards) with their wings furled up tightly. The oldest known Mystacina bat fossils date back 17,500 years, but researchers suspect these bats have a much more ancient history in New Zealand. However, no one knows exactly when the first of these “walking” bats crossed the ditch from present-day Australia. Read more.   

( phys.org ) No Need for Sophisticated Hunting Techniques: Equatorial Bats Live the Easy Life: Most of the world’s bats use extremely sophisticated hunting techniques, but not bats around the equator. They use pretty much the same less sophisticated hunting techniques as their ancestors did millions of years ago. They probably do not need more than that, because life at the equator is easy. Read more. 

( upworthyInspired by bats, this teen’s invention is changing the way blind people experience the world:  When he was 12 years old, Alex Deans watched a woman with a visual impairment struggle to cross a busy street. After a short conversation with her, Alex decided to use his love of science to improve the way people with visual impairments get around in their communities.He started from scratch, teaching himself how to program and connecting with coders and inventors from around the world in online chat rooms. He thought outside the box when he began to build his new device and found inspiration in nature for tackling the woman’s problem in a new way. Read more. 

Where Oh Where Have Our Bat’s Gone?

By Bruce McElmurray

  Where have our bats gone?  In the 14 plus years we have lived here we have had bats return to the very same spot each year at approximately at the very same time.  We wonder if their absence this year could be due to the white nosed bat syndrome. [Keep reading…]

After taking an in-depth look at the basic biology of a fungus that is decimating bat colonies as it spreads across the U.S., researchers report that they can find little that might stop the organism from spreading further and persisting indefinitely in bat caves.

The aptly named fungus Pseudogymnoascus (Geomyces) destructans causes white-nose syndrome in bats. The infection strikes bats during their winter hibernation, leaving them weakened and susceptible to starvation and secondary infections. The fungus, believed to have originated in Europe, was first seen in New York in the winter of 2006-2007, and now afflicts bats in more than two dozen states. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, P. destructans has killed more than 5.5 million bats in the U.S. and Canada.

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Primary source: PLoS One