Bats. They flap about on leathery wings, carry rabies, and are iconic symbols of spookiness across America. Many people are terrified of bats, but in reality, a world without bats, is a world FULL of gnats, and other nasty little insects. Bats populate a multitude of habitats, all across the world and keep the insect population in check. A recent development that has come under the radar of scientists in the North-East United States may, if left unchecked, have a devastating effect on the American and Canadian bat population.
Over the past few years, bats in the North East United States have been contracting a disease whilst hibernating. First noticed in the winter months of 2006-2007, this disease, called White Nose Syndrome (WNS for short), thrives in cold, clammy environments, i.e. caves, where it infects and ultimately kills hibernating bats. The disease is called such due to the light-colored fuzz that grows around the muzzle of the bat. According to White-Nose Syndrome.org a new species of fungus dubbed Pseudogymnoascus destructans “has been demonstrated to cause WNS.”
This fungus has been found on bats in Europe and must have been brought over to North America by careless spelunkers or other people spending time in caves with the bats. WNS is, sadly, quite fatal. According to The Center for Biological Diversity, WNS kills 70-90% of all the bats in a hibernaculum (place where animals hibernate), and on some unfortunate occasions, 100%– the entire colony.
Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or Pd, performs its grisly work by consuming the flesh, including the wings, of the bats, and making them awake frequently during hibernation, thus reducing their fat reserves that prevent them from starving during the winter. The bats are starved as well as eaten alive; a terrible fate.
There is no known cure, but the urgency of the situation has brought it into the light for scientists previously unaware of WNS and now research teams are studying the European bats who carried Pd, because they were unaffected.
So far in America, about 6.7 million bats have succumbed to WNS, and that number will continue to grow until a cure is developed. Let us just hope that these tough, unique, mammals pull through, because without bats, America would be an insect-infested as well as a miserable place.