Mystery Disease Kills U.S. Bats
A mysterious malady is killing thousands of hibernating bats in New York and Vermont, with yet another outbreak reported in a Massachusetts mine. Scientists are working desperately to unravel the cause. The disease is called “white-nose syndrome,” because a fungus appears around the muzzle of some affected bats. Researchers do not know whether the fungus is causing or contributing to the deaths or is merely a symptom of another problem.
Bat Conservation International has established a fund that is accepting donations to help finance this critical research. BCI is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and other agencies to help find solutions to this critical problem.
Describing the bat deaths as “an unprecedented die-off,” the USFWS is working with state biologists and wildlife officials in New York and Vermont and specialists around the country to understand the nature of this threat to several bat species, including the endangered Indiana myotis. No human impacts have been reported.
White-nose syndrome was first reported last winter in New York, where it was associated with the deaths of more than 8,000 hibernating bats. This past winter, the USFWS says, the disease was again found at the same caves and mines, as well as in several other sites in New York, as well as Vermont and now Massachusetts.
USFWS says the outbreak is especially disturbing because these bats congregate each winter by the thousands and tens of thousands to hibernate in caves and mines, where the disease could spread. Each spring, the bats disperse and migrate to summer roosts that might be hundreds of miles away.
Because it is not known how the disease spreads, the Fish and Wildlife Service is asking cavers in New York and Vermont to avoid entering caves and mines until more information is available. Cavers are also urged to clean and decontaminate all gear between trips in order to minimize transmission of the unknown agent.
In addition to Indiana myotis, white-nose syndrome has been reported among little brown myotis, eastern pipistrelles and northern long-eared bats.
Scientists are examining dead bats in hopes of discovering the cause of death, which is needed to determine how the bats become infected and how that might be prevented. Others researchers are documenting the geographic extent of the outbreak and details of its impact and spread.