Little Brown Bat, Where Have You Gone?

Summer is just a distant memory now, but one that will be remembered as wet, full of mosquitoes, and the absence of the Little Brown Bat. Predictions for recovery from the full effects of White-nose Syndrome (WNS), the disease killing our bat population, will be a guess, report scientists at “Caves.Org”. They are calling the demise of the bat an “ecological disaster”. U.S. Wildlife experts claim that we may never recover our bat population, and the Little Brown Bat may be headed for the endangered list. WNS was first reported in New York in 2006, and is now in eight states. [See chart].

The Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus), is dying at an alarming rate - in the last three years, 400,000 have succumbed to the disease in the northeast. Infected bats grow a white fungus near their muzzles and it is unknown whether the fungus itself is killing the bats or if it is a symptom of a more complex problem. The disease causes hibernating bats to burn fat more quickly, causing them to starve to death before spring comes and they are not able to procure nourishment. The means of transmission of WNS is unclear, although most evidence points to human activity as the culprit. The Appalachian Online states that “fungal spores easily attach to skin and hair, clothing and equipment, and cases of WNS have been discovered more often in areas of recreational caving than in caves inaccessible to the public.”

Many public recreational areas have extended closures through April 2010, in response to a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service advisory asking cavers to stay out of caves in WNS affected states and adjoining states. The Hoosier National Forest has closed all caves, as has Great Smoky Mountains National Park. WNS spreads quickly, and in caves where the bats are infected, it’s killing up to 95 percent of the bat population, according to Andrew Miller, coordinator of land-based programs and the climbing wall for Appalachian’s Outdoor Programs. Not only do bats play a huge role in controlling the insect population, but they bring vital nutrients back to other cave-dwelling creatures.

How you can help! The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (Mass Wildlife) have asked that Massachusetts residents call (508) 389 6300 or email mass.wildlife@state.ma.us with a bat report!

Bats use buildings as their summer roosts, and MassWildlife wants to track bat populations. Residents who find colonies of ten or more bats on their property, or in abandoned houses, barns, church steeples or other locations should report that information to department biologists. Monitoring summer colonies gives biologists an idea of how bat populations are faring from year to year. "White nose syndrome is a serious threat to bat populations in Massachusetts and throughout much of the northeastern United States," said DFG Commissioner Mary Griffin. "We greatly appreciate reports of summer bat colony activity from Massachusetts' residents so that we can research and better understand the disease and work toward restoration of bat species native to the region."

Janice Stiles-Boults, Contributing Writer
New Marlborough 5 Village News, October 2009.

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