Over the past several years, a fungus causing a disease called white nose syndrome has killed up to 6.7 million bats in North America. It was first documented in Indiana in January of 2011 and is now present in at least eight counties.
The Indiana Bat, a species first discovered in a southern Indiana cave in 1928, is endangered and is susceptible to white nose syndrome, according to Department of Natural Resources biologist Scott Johnson.
The fungus has been been found from New York to Alabama and west to Missouri.
“They wake up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, thinking, ‘I’m really hungry. It’s time for me to come out of hibernation.’ So, then they go outside and they look for insects but they realize that it’s still in the middle of winter and there aren’t any insects to eat and it’s freezing cold, and they very quickly succumb.”
Dr. Joy O’Keefe, director of the Center for North American Bat Research and Conservation at Indiana State University, says repopulating the bats will take a very long time.
“They mostly only have one pup per year. And so they’re going to be slow to reproduce and slow to replace themselves as these populations are devastated. The bats are really not mice and they’re not going to recover quickly from this impact.”
Scott Bearer says that if the bats keep dying, American consumers will begin to feel the effect at the grocery store, because bats eat tons of insects, including many kinds that feed on crops.
“That means that the farmers are going to have to spend more money to spray pesticides on their crops and, of course, the farmer is going to pass on those costs.”
Bearer says another worry is that insects carry diseases and there’s a concern we might start seeing an increase in diseases spread by mosquitoes, if there are fewer bats to eat those bugs. There’s more on white nose syndrome at whitenosebats.wordpress.com.
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