Bats are a fascinating component of many New York State Parks across the state. Although we can rarely get a good look at them, often only as fast-moving silhouettes at dusk, they form a critical component of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, acting as pollinators, seed dispersers and as predators regulating insect populations. A single little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) can eat up to 600 mosquitoes in one hour.
But our bats are in grave danger. In February 2006, a new contagion was identified in New York, and has since spread to 23 U.S. states and 5 Canadian provinces. This fungal infection which grows on the noses of bats is called White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) and it has killed millions of bats and is one of the most pressing ecological issues of our time.
What we have learned so far about the white-nose fungus is distressingly limited. It appears that bat-to-bat transmission is the primary means of infection, particularly in bat species that form large hibernacula, roosts where hundreds of bats hibernate through the winter together. Although we still don’t understand how WNS kills bats, it is clear that the infection somehow interrupts normal hibernation behavior. Infected bats wake up far too early from their winter sleep, depleting their fat reserves and consequently starving or freezing to death in the cold.
The species which have been most affected by this affliction are the big brown bat, little brown bat and the tri-colored bat, but other New York bat species including the hoary bat, the eastern red bat and the small-footed bat are also threatened. However, even the hardest-hit species have survived in small groups, compounding the importance of protecting bat habitats.
To learn more about White Nose Syndrome and the U.S. bat situation, we recommend the following video:
This video was produced for the USDA Forest Service by Ravenswood Media. It shows how government and private agencies have come together to search for solutions to help our bat populations overcome WNS. The public can also play a role in the future of bats by providing habitat and surveying their populations. Bats are a critical component in a healthy forest ecosystem, plus they provide significant agricultural pest control and pollination. Their survival is essential for a sustainable natural environment.
For more information
University of California Museum of Paleontology factsheet, Chiroptera: Life History and Ecology.
The featured photo is Myotis sodalis, the Indiana Bat. Photo by Alan Hicks, DEC. Post by Paris Harper.