The bat population has started to disappear and scientists want to know why. At least 90 percent of the Northeast species have been dying out, largely due to a fungus that attacks bats who hang out in caves. The fungus is called white-nose syndrome. The growing fungus is not the only reason bats are disappearing.
Recently, many bats have been found dead under wind turbines. Geological studies in Indiana used cameras to monitor wind turbines for months. The surveillance showed that birds who migrated at night avoided the turbines, but bats flew towards them. There is some speculation that bats are attracted to them because they resemble trees with gusting winds blowing through, which means there are insects to be eaten. Gusts of wind create movement in the turbine’s blades and it starts spinning unexpectedly.
The number of bat deaths by turbine has been increasing over the years and are nearing hundreds of thousands. This is a huge hit to the ecosystem because although the winged mammals can live long lives, they take a long time to reproduce. A spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, Meagan Racey, said recently that we need to know more about these animals and what is causing a decline in their numbers.
Scientists are trying to study the migratory patterns of the winged creatures by placing telemetry devices up and down the east coast. If they can get a better idea about their migration patterns, there may be the opportunity to learn more about white-nose syndrome and how to combat it in the wild.
The data they hope to collect could also help to deter them from flying into turbines. They could find other locations for the turbines that are out of the bats migration pattern or change the time of year the existing turbines operate so they would not attract the creatures, or deter them altogether.
Current data on the animal indicates that they eat during the night without taking breaks. In the fall, they only hunt for a shorter period of time. There is still much that is unknown about these creatures, and scientists are still trying to learn why bats keep disappearing.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has spent nearly $20 million on the study of bats. From the studies done, they were able to determine in 2011 that bats have saved farmers millions of dollars in pest control every year. The decrease in bat population has affected farmers because there are now over 1000 metric tons of insects that they are no longer eating.
In Australia, due to a recent heat wave, more than 100 baby bats are being cared for by “wildlife rehabilitators.” The winged mammals are sensitive to extreme heat, which killed off a large population. Normally, babies stay attached to their mother for protection, but with the many deaths, they were left abandoned. Currently, those babies are receiving constant care from many volunteers, but soon they will be released back into the wild.
Bats are a vital part of the ecosystem so when they start disappearing, scientists want to know why. The factors surrounding the depletion of the species has varied greatly from a deadly fungus, and unexpected turbine or a heat wave. More time and research will determine where the species is going in the future.
By Kerri Cushna
Photo by Lee Carson – Flickr License