White-nose syndrome is killing bats by the millions in the U.S.

Blake Sasse, nongame mammal program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission updated Commissioners at today’s regularly scheduled meeting on the status of white-nose syndrome, a disease that is killing bats by the millions in the U.S. “You hear about CWD with deer, and we’re all concerned with it, but I’m equally concerned about WNS in our bats,” Sasse said. According to Sasse, the disease actually is a fungus that grows on the bats during hibernation and causes them to wake prematurely.

“Our bats are insect eaters, and they hibernate during winter because of the lack of insects at that time of year,” Sasse said. “Waking up raises their metabolism and causes them to burn fat reserves they have for winter. They essentially starve to death as a result.” Sasse explained that the fungus is widespread in Europe and Asia, but bats in those regions have adapted to it. Much like any non-native species, the fungus has done an extreme amount of damage to bat populations in the U.S. since its arrival.

“Ninety-nine percent of northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) populations have been killed because of this disease,” Sasse said. “They once were about as common as a opossum in New England, now they are listed in the Federal Endangered Species Act.”

Sasse did say some populations of little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) have seen a leveling off of the decline from WNS, but the damage to those populations had already been as high as 90 percent mortality before that occurred. “We don’t know if those populations will have enough individuals left to recover,” Sasse said.

Source: KAIT, November 20, 2017