Bats Stricken With White Nose Syndrome [Video]

Bats in Vermont are the first set of bats to recover from an illness called white nose syndrome. The illness traveled from New York to Vermont in the middle of 2000 and has affected thousands of brown bats. White nose syndrome is actually a white fungus named Pseudogymnoascus destructans and occurs when the white fungus grows on the nose as well as the wings of bats. The fungus is caught during the winter months and causes bats to starve. Bats who are stricken with the syndrome wake up too often during hibernation and scratch themselves. When the bats awaken, they fly around and use up their most of their energy while flying. The bats also seek food that is not available in winter, which causes the bats to starve. In many caves in the northeast, the disorder has reduced colonies by 90 to 100 percent.

After the illness was discovered, it has spread all over the country and in Canada causing new populations of bats to die. Jeremy Coleman, the white nose coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Services, says that there is hope and optimism for the remaining bats. Coleman asks if there are enough remaining bats to cause the species to survive. The fungus began in Europe and traveled to North America. Scott Darling, a biologist for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and other biologists tagged approximately 450 little brown bats the previous fall to see if they leave the Aeolus bat cave in Dorset, Vermont during the winter.

The group plans to check the cave to see how many left the Aeolus cave. Darling said that if survival rates for the fungus are high, then there might be a genetic or behavioral trait that has caused bats to be able to fight off the illness and be protected from it. Six species have been affected by the illness including the little brown bat and the Indiana bat. The little brown bat or Myotis lucifugus has been affected the most. The illness is spread bat to bat but humans might also cause the illness.

Bats that are stricken with the illness might be getting a cure in the future in the form of a bacteria. Tina Cheng, a student at the University of California at Santa Cruz who is studying to get her Ph.D, found and grew a strain of bacteria that slowed the growth of the fungus. Cheng tested the bacteria by wiping both the fungus and the bacteria on bats that she then released into refrigerator that mimics the characteristics of a cave. She checked on the bats in the beginning of February and saw they were hibernating. However, she said that it was too soon to tell if the bacteria worked. One day, Cheng hopes to create a liquid that could be sprayed onto bats before they begin hibernation to prevent the fungus from forming.

Over 1 million bats have been killed by white nose syndrome. Bats that are stricken with the illness develop a white fungus that grows on their wings, nose and tail. The illness causes bats to awaken from hibernation and fly around. When the bats move around, they are losing energy. The bats die because while they fly, they search for food that is not available in winter, which causes them to starve. Cheng has developed a solution to the fungus by discovering bacteria that slows the growth of Pseudogeomyces destructans. Bats provide important systems for the ecosystem by eating about two-thirds of their body weight in insects every night.

By Jordan Bonte


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