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North American Bat Death Toll Exceeds 6 Million From White-nose Syndrome

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  • #16
    Re: USA: Bats Die by the Thousands


    'What are these bats telling us about the environment we live in?'
    Labs race to unravel deadly illness that may have broader impact

    Misunderstood, and threatened A mysterious illness is killing off bats in the Northeast, threatening to disrupt the ecosystem. (Audio and video by Beth Daley; Photos by Mark Wilson; Produced by Jason Tuohey)


    SOURCES: Bat Conservation and Management Inc.; The Northeastern Cave Conservancy Inc.; Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 46, No. 2; Organization for Bat Conservation; New York State Department Of Environmental Conservation; How Things Work; Tom Kunz, Boston University
    (David Butler / Globe Staff)


    By Beth Daley
    Globe Staff / May 4, 2008

    DORSET, Vt. - The little brown bat careened out of Aeolus Cave into the bright March afternoon. Crashing into a snow bank, it clawed up the icy mound, wings flailing wildly. Spent and starving, it fell still.

    Dozens of furry bats, many shivering uncontrollably, littered the snow around the cave's mossy entrance. Others in various stages of dying were tucked into rock crevices nearby - deeply bizarre behavior for animals that avoid light and so despise winter they can hibernate until early May.

    A wildlife biologist breathing through a respirator gingerly picked up the still creature - one more critical clue to a mysterious illness that is killing the bats of the Northeast.

    For more than four months, perplexed scientists have struggled to understand why upwards of a half-million bats may be at risk of dying in the dark caves and mines of Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and New York. Last year, thousands of dead bats were found in four caves within 7 miles of one another. This year, at least 25 caves and mines spread across 135 miles were found to have sick or dying bats. Homeowners from Hanover, N.H., to East Canaan in northwest Connecticut have reported dead bats on lawns, decks, and roofs, a sign the animals might be affected in an even wider area. But so far, no one has found an infectious agent or any other cause.

    It is a race against time.

    Bats are now migrating as far as 250 miles to their summer roosts, where they will mix with bats from other far-off caves and mines. By fall, they will travel back to their hibernation site to mingle and mate with still other bats. If the sickness is contagious, millions more of the animals around the country could be at risk next year.

    Finding an answer is critical for a population that eats thousands of tons of crop-infesting and human-biting insects. But scientists also worry that the sick bats are a potent sign of changing conditions in the natural world.

    "What are these bats telling us about the environment we live in?" asked Beth Buckles, assistant professor of biomedical sciences at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine and one of the researchers leading the hunt for the causes of the problem. While humans do not appear susceptible to the illness, scientists worry that a large bat die-off could disrupt nature's balance in unpredictable ways. "We are in the middle of something historic here," she said.

    Some are comparing the bat sickness to the massive population decline among honeybees in North America, which also involves animals that cluster together. Scientists have not found any link, other than the realization that neither event appears to have an identifiable cause.

    Now, dozens of pathologists, immunologists, toxicologists, wildlife biologists, and other researchers in more than 15 government, university, and private labs are methodically working to unravel the bat mystery. Government grants are being written to fund more in-depth work. Scientists are using cutting-edge technology, from heat-detecting cameras in muddy bat caves to DNA analysis in sterile labs. Even a Columbia University molecular epidemiologist who discovered a possible contributor to the bee colony collapse has joined the sleuthing.

    "We've got to find an answer," said Susi von Oettingen, an endangered species biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. "And in so many ways, we really don't know where to start."

    An illness spreads

    Joe Armstrong's heart sank. The 43-year-old caver was in Haunted Castle, a remote spur in upstate New York's Howe's Cave in January. Just as he was about to leave, his headlamp trained on a single bat with what looked like frost on its nose.

    Weeks earlier, Armstrong, the conservation chairman for the Northeastern Cave Conservancy, had heard about a strange and what authorities hoped was an isolated 2007 bat die-off that involved animals with white faces at four nearby caves west of Albany.

    Armstrong immediately called New York state bat biologist Al Hicks at home. The next morning, a Sunday, Hicks was in Haunted Castle. He and another scientist peered at the bat. The white frost was the same fuzzy white fungus he had seen on bats the year before.

    "We knew then the genie was out of the bottle," Hicks recalled recently. "It seemed to be spreading."

    Wildlife biologists, dressed in protective white suits and wearing respirators to keep from spreading the sickness unwittingly, began exploring icy, dark mines and caves across the Northeast, sometimes aided by experienced cavers who knew the damp, maze-like passages. They traded their findings on a bat conservation discussion group on the Internet.

    Six species of bats appeared to be affected, though little brown bats seemed hardest hit. Not all the dead bats had white noses, but enough did for scientists to dub the sickness "white nose syndrome." Most had virtually no fat on their body, indicating they had starved. But even some live bats that were a healthy weight and lacked white fungus were acting strangely by flying out in the middle of the day. Mortality in some caves was nearing 100 percent.

    No one had seen anything like it.

    "We hope that our concern is overblown and that in a short time people are laughing at us for saying, 'The sky is falling, the sky is falling,' " Virgil Brack Jr., a bat consultant and assistant director of the Center for North American Bat Research and Conservation at Indiana State University, wrote in an e-mail to the group in January. "But until that proves to be the case, this . . . scares the hell out of us."

    An elusive killer

    At first, researchers hoped it would be easy to pinpoint the bats' killer.

    In a lab filled with stainless steel at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine, Buckles and her students began receiving dozens of bat corpses.

    They painstakingly examined each animal before placing its lungs, heart, and other organs in preserving fluid. Then, they examined tiny slices of the organs, stained bright pink or blue, under a microscope. If the cells looked abnormal - fragmented or oddly shaped, for example - it could mean that the animals were fighting a virus, bacterium, fungus, parasite, or toxin. But they saw no pattern indicating an immune response in the bats, even the ones with white nose fungus.

    Other Cornell scientists searched for toxins or pathogens hidden in the tissue. Still no pattern. That meant, as far as they could tell, that an infection did not seem to be killing the bats.

    Meanwhile, the count of sick bats was rising. White nose was confirmed in Vermont's Aeolus Cave on Valentine's Day. Bats in more than a dozen New York caves had the illness by the end of February. Sick bats were found in Connecticut in March. Reports of white nose, still unconfirmed, are now trickling in from Pennsylvania.

    In Chester, Mass., biologists didn't have a chance to investigate the honeycomb of old emery mines before residents began calling: Dead bats had to be kicked off porches. Carcasses were sticking to houses.

    "We used to go outside in the spring, have a beer, and watch the bats come out at dusk from the mines," said Mary Ann Pease, the town tax collector as she walked her dog through the speck of a downtown. "But we know that isn't going to happen anymore."

    Unable to identify an obvious infectious agent - the white fungus appears to strike bats already weakened by something else - scientists around the country began looking down other paths. Could pesticides have killed so many moths, beetles, or midges that bats didn't have enough to eat the previous fall? Were they going into hibernation without enough fat to make it through the winter? Did the fungus make the bats so itchy that they woke up and expended precious energy scratching?

    Some members of the public suggested the reason was electromagnetic radiation from cellphone towers. Three people e-mailed The Boston Globe convinced the bats were dying from government planes they suspected were spraying mysterious chemicals each morning.

    Whatever the cause, scientists realized they were stalled by a fundamental problem: They really didn't know enough about healthy hibernating bats.

    Gaining an understanding

    Tom Kunz of Boston University is, truly, batman. It's not because of the pile of stuffed bats on a filing cabinet in his paper-strewn office. It's that he has been studying the mystical creatures for more than 40 years.

    Despite all that experience, he still doesn't understand exactly how a hibernating bat's immune system works. He does not exactly know how much body fat a bat needs to make it through the winter healthy enough to reproduce.

    The answers are critical. It's hard to determine what's gone wrong with sick bats without being able to compare them with healthy ones.

    "We need to know so much more about their ecology and physiology" to figure this out, Kunz said.

    The lack of basic knowledge slowed the investigation. Ian Lipkin, the Columbia University epidemiologist, agreed to use a sophisticated molecular method he had developed to look for pathogens by comparing healthy bats with unhealthy bats. Lipkin's lab used this method to discover a virus in bees in hives affected by colony collapse disorder, a potential key contributor to that species' decline.

    But he needed to be certain healthy bats were truly healthy. A sick bat could look healthy if the illness had not had time to cause symptoms yet.

    Supposedly healthy Pennsylvania bats were sent to Lipkin, but Buckles was uncomfortable. They were collected only 200 miles from an affected New York mine, and there was growing concern Pennsylvania had sick bats. The group decided to collect bats farther away, from Wisconsin, and Lipkin is now running his tests.

    Increasingly, scientists believe a confluence of factors is contributing to the bats' demise, sort of a one-two, and possibly three, punch.

    One hypothesis proposed by Kunz and his graduate students is that hibernating bats may need to arouse to jump-start their immune system to fight off a pathogen or contaminant. If bats enter hibernation without enough body fat, for whatever reason, they may be unable to muster enough energy to arouse and get their immune system going, the BU group figured.

    On Feb. 13, Marianne Moore and Jon Reichard, two of Kunz's graduate students, rappelled 120 feet into Williams Hotel Mine, an old limestone cement mine in upstate New York, to test the hypothesis.

    Quietly, they grabbed hibernating, cold bats off the wall and drew blood. Then they tried to wake up some bats to obtain blood during different stages of arousal. Some awoke, others didn't, an odd sign. They poked the bats to arouse them. Still no response.

    Reichard set up a heat-detecting video camera to record the animals' body heat, in case they were arousing a bit but just not enough for the researchers to notice. Even after three hours, some bats never woke up.

    Once they extracted themselves from the icy mine, Moore and Reichard took the frozen blood samples back to the BU lab.

    There, Moore mixed bat blood, taken during different states of arousal, with bacteria in small vials. Later, in petri dishes, she counted how many bacteria were killed, as a measure of immune system activity. While her data are still preliminary and only suggestive, Moore said it appears that there was less immune activity in the blood taken from less-aroused bats. If confirmed, that means their hypothesis could be correct. Something no one has detected yet could be invading the bats' bodies, and their immune system just can't fight it when they are in deep hibernation.

    "We still need a lot more information," Moore cautioned. Researchers plan to gather in Albany next month to decide which potential causes to the bat illness appear the most promising to pursue in the coming months, as bats again prepare for the next hibernating season.

    A hopeful expedition

    Two weeks ago, a team of New York researchers hiked a half-mile up a mountain path strewn with felled trees and branches to place a bat trap across a hard-to-find entrance to an Adirondack mine.

    Inside the mine, near rusted machine parts once used to extract iron ore, the squeaks and chirps of thousands of bats could be heard. Bats writhed and squirmed in clusters of hundreds per square foot as they prepared to leave the cave and begin the long flight to their summer roosts.

    There is hope here. When Hicks, the New York state bat biologist, visited the mine in March, he saw little evidence of white nose. And he expected to see a lot: Other mines in the area have sick bats.

    Perhaps, he and other scientists wondered, this mine's dry conditions somehow helped the bats withstand the illness. Humidity levels in the cave average about 65 percent, compared with close to 100 percent in most caves and mines.

    Hicks and three fellow bat catchers got ready as the sun set. A trickle of bats began flying out of the 15-foot wide entrance. The bat trap, monofilament strung across two metal bars, worked. Some bats were unable to navigate around the trap and flew into the wire. Stunned, they dropped to the ground.

    The researchers, wearing white gloves and miner lamps, grabbed each bat to weigh, measure, and examine the animal for white nose, before letting it go.

    Hicks needed to catch hundreds of bats to see any trends. By 11:30 p.m., after almost nine hours on the mountain, they had caught only 65.

    But the bats they did catch were a healthy weight. And fewer than a half-dozen had the white fungus. Was it a good sign?

    "We need more bats to know," said the exhausted Hicks as he and the crew packed up their gear before gingerly stepping over logs and spruce branches on the way down the mountain.

    Near their car, the crew paused. Someone shouted and pointed. It was a bat, starting the journey to its summer roost, silhouetted against the moon.

    Beth Daley can be reached at


    • #17
      Re: USA: Bats Die by the Thousands


      Listening In on a Bat Cave

      by Jim Metzner

      Listen Now [6 min 18 sec]:
      All Things Considered, May 6, 2008 · A mysterious disease called "white-nose syndrome" is striking down hibernating bat populations in New York State. Four of the state's six species of hibernating bats are suffering from this affliction, which is decimating bat populations throughout the Northeast.

      Jim Metzner has been training scientists to make audio recordings of their field research. Biologists from New York's Ulster County go underground as they try to work out what is killing the region's bats.

      Visit an abandoned mine where bats are dying

      Link to earlier NPR program entitled Bats Plagued by Mysterions 'White-Nose' disease:


      Disease Deadly to Bats Spreads in Northeast U.S.
      by Brian Mann

      Listen Now [2 min 47 sec]:
      javascript:NPR.Player.openPlayer(89852947, 90060865, null, NPR.Player.Action.PLAY_NOW, NPR.Player.Type.STORY, '')

      Morning Edition, April 30, 2008 · A deadly disease that has ravaged bat populations in the Northeast is spreading faster than expected, according to federal researchers, who have confirmed fresh outbreaks of "white-nose syndrome" in Connecticut and eastern Vermont.

      The scientists also suspect that the illness may have infected caves in Pennsylvania, and they worry that entire species of bats could be wiped out in affected areas.

      White-nose syndrome was first reported in late 2006 in caves in Albany, N.Y., where as many as 11,000 bats died. More than three months ago, researchers confirmed that the disease had infected bats elsewhere in New York as well as in Massachusetts and western Vermont — killing 90 percent of the animals in some caves.

      But little progress has been made in understanding the mysterious disease, dubbed white-nose because the muzzles of some bats are covered with a white fungus, and how it spreads.

      "We are still in the dark with what this is," says biologist Susi von Oettingen, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

      There have been no known incidents of the disease affecting humans, the agency says.

      Bat Populations in Other States at Risk

      Scientists were hoping that the outbreak would burn itself out — or be limited to small pockets of remote caves. But the disease seems to be affecting every species of bat in the areas where it has been found, and the rash of new sites confirmed at caves in Connecticut and suspected in Pennsylvania has dashed that optimism.

      Von Oettingen says the fear is that "white nose" could spread quickly into core habitats as far away as Ohio and Virginia, potentially decimating populations of endangered Indiana bats.

      "If we knew that it was an environmental factor that was unique to the Northeast, then maybe we wouldn't have to be concerned," she says. "But because we don't know, we really do have to watch those adjacent states very closely."

      Scientists don't know that much about the diseases that affect bats, and this outbreak is proving especially puzzling. Some of the dying animals have a crust of white fungus on their noses, while others look emaciated or disoriented.

      Researchers looking for clues are scrambling to dissect hundreds of infected bat carcasses, and volunteers are working to try to keep some of the ailing animals alive.

      Kathy Larrow is an amateur wildlife rehabilitator in Hudson Falls, N.Y., who has converted a bedroom in her home into a makeshift clinic. As she prepares to feed a tiny bat, the animal crawls awkwardly, using its delicate, leathery wings.

      "We've got to get some extra food into him," Larrow says.

      Two of Larrow's bats have already died, but three others seem to be gaining strength.

      Environmentalists say the efforts of volunteers like Larrow are a sign that government agencies haven't moved fast enough to protect these animals — especially endangered Indiana bats.

      Despite white-nose syndrome's rapid spread, the Fish and Wildlife Service still hasn't appointed a full-time employee to coordinate the response.

      Earlier this month, a coalition of environmental groups threatened to sue the federal government under the Endangered Species Act if more action isn't taken.

      Brian Mann reports from North Country Public Radio.

      About 'White-Nose Syndrome'

      What is white-nose syndrome? White-nose syndrome refers to a white fungus on the noses of many affected bats. The fungus may be a symptom and not the cause of the bat deaths observed to date. Affected bats do not always have the fungus, but may display abnormal behaviors.

      What are signs of white-nose syndrome? The disease may be associated with some or all of the following:
      • bats with white fungus on the nose, wings, ears and/or tail;
      • bats flying outside during the day in the winter in New York, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. For states farther south, bats flying outside during the day in temperatures at or below freezing;
      • bats clustered near the entrance of caves or mines or in areas not normally identified as winter roost sites; and/or
      • dead or dying bats on the ground or on buildings, trees or other structures.

      What should cavers know and do? Officials request that cavers observe all cave closures and advisories and avoid caves or passages of caves containing hibernating bats. The Fish and Wildlife Service discourages cavers from systematically searching for bats with white-nose syndrome.
      Read recommended precautions:

      Does white-nose syndrome pose a risk to human health? The disease is in caves and mines that have been visited by thousands of people during the past two years, yet there have been no reported illnesses attributable to the syndrome. However, because scientists are still learning about the disease, the potential risk to humans from contact with affected bats is not fully understood, and federal wildlife officials say they "are not prepared to advise you about human health risk." As a precaution, people should use protective equipment when entering caves or handling bats in the Northeast.
      Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife service :


      • #18
        Re: USA: Bats Die by the Thousands

        Investigations continue into the cause of a mysterious illness that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of bats since March 2008. At more than 25 caves and mines in the northeastern U.S, bats exhibiting a condition now referred to as white-nosed syndrome have been dying.

        The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recently issued a Wildlife Health Bulletin, advising wildlife and conservation officials throughout the U.S. to be on the lookout for the condition known as white-nose syndrome and to report suspected cases of the disease.

        USGS wildlife disease specialist Dr. Kimberli Miller advises that "anyone finding sick or dead bats should avoid handling them and should contact their state wildlife conservation agency or the nearest U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service field office to report their observation.

        Large-scale wildlife mortality events should be reported to the USGS at

        The USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis. has received nearly 100 bat carcasses mostly from New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The syndrome affects species including the little brown, big brown, northern long-eared and eastern pipistrelle bats.

        The condition was first observed in February 2007 in caves near Albany, N.Y. by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Dead and hibernating bats had a white substance on their heads and wings. In early 2008, white-nosed bats were once again seen at hibernation sites.
        Scientists have collected environmental samples from affected caves and mines in Vermont, New York and Massachusetts in an effort to determine the cause of the deaths. Live, dead and dying bats were documented in and outside of hibernation sites.

        The most common findings in the bats have been emaciation and poor body condition. Many of the bats examined had little or no body fat; some exhibited changes in the lung that have been difficult to characterize; and a majority had microscopic fungi on their bodies.

        The white substance observed on some bats may represent an overgrowth of normal fungal colonizers of bat skin during hibernation and could be an indicator of overall poor health, rather than a primary pathogen. Scientists from a variety of agencies are investigating underlying environmental factors, potential secondary microbial pathogens and toxicants as possible causes.

        Contact: Kimberli Miller
        United States Geological Survey


        • #19
          Re: USA: Bats Die by the Thousands


          Scientists, cavers gather in NY to brainstorm on bats

          By MARY ESCH | Associated Press Writer
          June 11, 2008

          ALBANY, N.Y. - Researchers, cavers and others interested in bats traveled to Albany from across the U.S. and Canada for a three-day brainstorming session on the mysterious, mass die-off of bats in the Northeast.

          The cause of the deaths, which have been documented in about 20 bat hibernation caves in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut, remains unknown. The phenomenon is called "white-nose syndrome" because a mold-like fungus is found powdering the snouts of many of the dead bats.

          "The purpose of the meeting was to bring everybody together to share information so we're all working from a common knowledge base," Susi von Oettingen, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist from Concord, N.H., said as the meeting wound down on Wednesday afternoon.

          The massive scale of the die-off was recognized in early January. This week's meeting was an effort to coordinate various research studies; share theories on possible causes; develop priorities for field studies during the summer breeding season and next winter's hibernation; map the progression of the die-off; explore funding sources; and create a clear definition of the syndrome.

          Task forces were set up to study a broad range of issues _ for example, developing a common scoring system for bat-wing damage to be used by researchers examining bats in the field.

          Participants came from 14 states, eight universities, several federal agencies, and Canadian wildlife agencies.

          The only comparable mass die-off, von Oettingen said, is colony collapse disorder, which started mysteriously wiping out honeybee colonies in the winter of 2006-07. In response to that phenomenon, federal agencies and universities held a major workshop in April 2007 to share knowledge and develop an action plan.

          Several scientists involved in that effort presented a workshop at the Albany bat meeting to make suggestions for coordinating team research.

          "They basically were training us in how to deal with something of this magnitude," von Oettingen said.

          "The push now is to recognize this as a major regional, potentially national issue, and go after secure funding so we can continue to investigate it," von Oettingen said.

          "This is the first opportunity to get together to discuss what we've found and where do we go from here," said Alan Hicks, a wildlife biologist with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

          Peter Youngbaer of the National Speleological Society and Northeastern Cave Conservancy, which own and manage caves, said many members of caving groups have been helping research the bat die-off.

          "As cave owners and managers, we're very concerned about what's going on with the bat hibernacula," Youngbaer said. The speleological society owns three caves where white-nose syndrome was first identified.

          "The 12,000 members of the NSS are involved in sampling both in the affected region and in other areas which will serve as controls," Youngbaer said.

          Beth Buckles is an anatomic pathologist at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, one of the labs that has been doing autopsies on bats.
          "We're looking for tissue changes as well as infectious agents or contaminants," Buckles said. "We have found that many of the bats coming out of the affected hibernacula are very thin. We want to pursue why they're thin. It could be because of physiologic problems, environmental problems, or an infectious agent."

          A priority is to evaluate what's going on in the summer before hibernation, Buckles said. "We'd like to look at population numbers, how well the bats are breeding, and what's happening to them right before they go into the hibernaculum. If they seem to be OK going into the caves, that would indicate there's something in the caves that's affecting them."

          Working groups set up at the meeting will decide which bats to look at, and when, Buckles said. "If there's a maternity colony that we have a lot of background data on from before the outbreak, that might be a priority area to look at," she said.

          If bats disappear from the landscape, there could be major ecological consequences, von Oettingen said. Bats are voracious predators of insects, with lactating females eating up to 73 percent of their body weight in insects per night, she said.

          "This is unprecedented," von Oettingen said. "We don't know what effect it will have on the insect population and the environment if bats disappear. But it's going to be a hole in the ecosystem and we don't know what's going to fill it."


          • #20
            Re: USA: Bats Die by the Thousands


            Mysterious disease casts uncertainty on Ind. bat comeback

            By RICK CALLAHAN | Associated Press Writer
            2:49 PM CDT, June 15, 2008

            LEAVENWORTH, Ind. - With a gloved hand, Lori Pruitt reaches into a crevice in the chilled depths of southern Indiana's Wyandotte Cave, grasping a mouse-sized bat that bares its small spiked teeth under her flashlight's beam.

            "He's just a tiny little guy but he's going to be totally perturbed by the time we're done with him," says Pruitt, an endangered species biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

            The brownish male, which flutters away as soon as it's released, is an endangered Indiana bat -- a species in the midst of a resurgence after decades in decline.

            But Pruitt fears that comeback -- and those of other bat species -- could be short-lived.

            A mysterious ailment that interrupts bats' winter hibernation, causing them to use up fat reserves and starve, may have killed as many as 200,000 of the animals the past winter in the Northeast.

            In just two years it has spread dramatically and may reach the Midwest within a few.

            Pruitt and other wildlife biologists worry the ailment, named white-nose syndrome for the white fungus found on many dead bats' muzzles, will spread and cause widespread dieoffs.

            Scientists still do not know why so many Northeastern bats died over the winter.

            But if it turns out the culprit is a virus or some other fatal pathogen the bats are spreading to each other, the Indiana bat would be particularly vulnerable because they are highly social animals, Pruitt said.

            In the summer, when they're not feeding, Indiana bats roost and rear their young in groups under the bark of dead trees. In winter, they huddle in dense living mats on the ceilings of relatively few caves in their 15-state range.

            For example, Wyandotte Cave about 40 miles west of Louisville, Ky., is the winter home of about 50,000 Indiana bats -- about 10 percent of the entire species.

            "If something like white-nose syndrome happens to this cave, a large portion of the population would be affected -- just like that," said Pruitt, the Indiana bat coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

            Alan Hicks, a wildlife biologist with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, worries about the ailment's eventual impact not just on the Indiana species but other rare or threatened bats such as the Virginia big-eared bat, of which only about 13,000 remain.

            "Don't think of this as confined in the Northeast. Think of it as starting in the Northeast," he said.

            For the Indiana bat, which was headed to extinction in 1967 when it was declared federally endangered, the ominous new threat comes just as it seems to have turned a page in its recovery.

            Since its numbers bottomed out in the mid-1990s, the species has rebounded 41 percent to an estimated 513,400 bats in caves and mines throughout its range in 2007. That surge is likely due to habitat protection and better tourist cave management, such as replacing walled entrances that kept out bats and disrupted air flow with gates they can easily fly through, Pruitt said.

            Although many people are frightened by bats, the winged mammals avoid contact with humans and less than half of 1 percent of bat species carry rabies. They also play a key role in keeping insects in check.

            Each night, a single bat can eat up to half its weight in moths, night-flying beetles and other flying insects that damage forests and crops. They also eat mosquitoes.

            "Bats are just as important by night as birds are by day. Most people would be truly alarmed if this were happening to birds," said Merlin Tuttle, founder of Bat Conservation International in Austin, Texas.

            Tuttle, Pruitt and other bat experts gathered this week in Albany, N.Y., for a three-day conference to map out research approaches they hope can explain the massive bat dieoffs.

            Whatever the cause of the deaths, it has spread rapidly.

            Wildlife biologists first noticed bats dying off in winter 2006-07. About 10,000 bats died in five New York caves that are within nine miles of each other.

            By this past winter, white-nose syndrome had spread to every cave within 80 miles of the first five and as far away as 135 miles, Hicks said.

            Many tens of thousands of bats -- possibly up to 200,000 -- died in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut over the winter, he said. An upcoming winter bat census will give a clearer tally of the toll.

            Some bats were found dead or dying in caves, but others succumbed after flying outside into daylight, often in frigid temperatures, in a futile attempt to find food.

            Most of the dead animals were little brown bats -- common in North America -- but the Indiana bat was the second hardest-hit species. In New York State, a fifth of its estimated 53,000 Indiana bats either died from white-nose syndrome or vanished, Hicks said.

            Susi von Oettingen, an endangered species biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Concord, N.H., said this year's bat deaths in the Northeast didn't end with the onset of spring. Bats that survived the winter continue to die and display bizarre behavior.

            "People are seeing bats flying around in the afternoon, flopping on roofs and dying," she said. "This is the most serious threat to bats we've ever seen."


            • #21
              Re: USA: Bats Die by the Thousands

              Published: Monday, July 7, 2008
              Disease taking a toll on state's bat population
              By ANDREW WOLFE, Staff Writer

              New Hampshire's bats are back, but their ranks have been ravaged by a disease that has devastated bat populations elsewhere in the Northeast, a researcher and a state wildlife official said.

              New Hampshire's bat population hasn't been as hard-hit by white nose syndrome as those in Vermont and New York, but the losses are noticeable, said bat researchers Scott Reynolds, of North East Ecological Services, and Emily Brunkhurst, a New Hampshire Fish and Game biologist.

              "They are back," Brunkhurst said. "We have gotten some calls from some people . . . who traditionally had them, and the numbers are lower. Significantly lower in some cases, missing in others. I have gotten calls from people who say, 'I've had bats for years, and I don't now.' "

              Bats that returned to the state also have been in poor health compared with past years, and fewer are reproducing, Reynolds said.

              "I think we're on the front end of something that's just going to be getting worse in the next few years," Reynolds said, adding later, "If the numbers are down and reproduction is down, the big impact will be next year. . . . This may be the front edge of the storm."

              Researchers have a few clues, but no solution, to the mystery of what causes white nose syndrome, so named for a fungus that appears around the snouts of affected bats during hibernation. The disease seems to cause bats to burn through their body fat reserves too quickly during hibernation, leading to starvation and dehydration, experts said.

              White nose syndrome has hit hardest among little brown bats, one of the most common species, known for its voracious consumption of mosquitoes. A little brown bat eats about half its weight, or about 4,000 mosquitoes, every night – and what's bad for the predator typically is good for the prey.

              "If in fact we have 500,000 fewer bats in the landscape this year, that adds up to about 2 billion insects that are not eaten each night," Vermont Fish and Game bat biologist Scott Darling said.

              The scope of white nose syndrome has been compared to Colony Collapse Disorder, which has been decimating North American honeybees, and its cause has remained similarly elusive.

              Experts from around the United States and Canada gathered last month in Albany, N.Y., to share information on the disease and try to coordinate strategies for dealing with it.

              "Take-home messages were essentially that this is an unprecedented mortality event this past winter," Reynolds said.

              White nose syndrome was first identified in New York during the winter of 2006-07. Last winter, Reynolds said, some affected hibernating populations had been all but wiped out.

              "Some sites have 90 percent loss," Reynolds said. "Others have as little as 80 percent loss, but it's all of that order."

              Researchers simply don't know how far the disease may spread or how bad the impact might be, and they've been wary of predictions, mainly for fear that their estimates would sound incredible, Reynolds said.

              "The reductions are overwhelming," Reynolds said. "Because the numbers are so big, they are sensitive that if their counting methods are not accurate, it's going to be seen as alarmist.

              "We do know we've never seen anything like this. We know the numbers are huge, but we don't know what the numbers are."

              Reynolds has been studying bats for 15 years, focusing on a summer breeding colony in Peterborough, which draws bats from all around the regions affected by white nose syndrome. New Hampshire bats generally hibernate elsewhere, as the state has few caves or mines suitable for winter hibernation.

              That colony typically includes from 1,500-2,000 bats, and the population this summer is down by about 25 percent – a drop well beyond the normal swings, he said.

              Reynolds said he has tagged some 4,500 bats from the Peterborough colony over the years, and many of his tagged bats have been found dead of white nose syndrome in hibernacula in Vermont and New York.

              "It's only a matter of time before the full impact is felt by this colony," he said.

              Beyond the population drop, Reynolds and other experts said, bats that survived the winter don't seem to be as healthy as usual. Many bats have visible damage to their wings, including scar tissue, tears and holes, apparently caused by dehydration during hibernation, Reynolds and Darling said, and some still seem to be carrying the telltale white fungus.

              "I'm still getting one to two calls a day about dead and dying bats," Darling said. "We thought once they left the caves and mines and got out into their summer habitat . . . their weights would go up and they'd be back in good shape."

              Reynolds has noted that many more female bats than usual haven't produced offspring, probably because their body fat reserves were too diminished to deal with it, he said.

              "They had enough energy to survive, but not enough for anything extra, like reproduction," Reynolds said.

              Researchers know little about the disease and hope that further studies in late summer and fall will at least shed light on whether their health got better or worse over the summer, Darling said. Further declines over the summer might point to an environmental cause, such as pollutants. If the disease does its damage mainly during hibernation, he said, that would suggest some sort of biological pathogen.

              "There is a relatively well-coordinated and comprehensive effort to try to tackle this," Darling said.

              So far, researchers have been unable to find any hint of a bacterial or viral cause, Reynolds said, but they've found a previously unidentified species of cold-weather fungus. The question is whether it's new to bats or just new to researchers.

              "We know we're finding fungus, but we don't know that it's a new fungus for them," Reynolds said of the bats.

              Scientists "didn't know this fungus existed before," Reynolds said. "The mycologist was almost giddy talking about it."

              The new fungus isn't the same one that causes the distinctive white snouts, however, Reynolds said. Some researchers have suggested fungus on the snouts might actually cause the disease, simply by irritating the bats to the point where they can't get a proper winter's sleep.

              "We still are a long ways from indicting the fungus as a cause of death in these animals," Darling said.

              The combination of new funguses striking bees and bats and the recent worldwide amphibian fungus epidemic have Darling concerned about the entire "ecological infrastructure," he said.

              "It's more than just about bats. It's about broader implications," Darling said. "I'm hoping that when we do pin this down, and I'm hopeful that we will, that there will be a public will to address that problem."
              Andrew Wolfe can be reached at 594-6410 or

              ON THE NET
              Information on the white nose syndrome Conference.

              Information on white nose syndrome.

              Bats and white nose syndrome in New Hampshire.

              View a video presentation on white nose syndrome by U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Susi von Oettingen, of Concord.

              Related coverage

              * How you can help solve bat mystery


              • #22
                Re: USA: Bats Die by the Thousands

                The mysterious death of bats has continued this summer, but researchers are closing in on a cause
                By Beth Daley, Globe Staff | July 28, 2008

                After a series of provocative discoveries in recent months, scientists believe bats in the Northeast might be in greater peril from a mysterious sickness than originally thought.

                Researchers now think that a fuzzy white fungus found on thousands of dead and dying bats in New England and New York last winter might be the primary cause of the illness.
                Scientists have learned that the unidentified fungus seems to thrive in the cold temperatures found in caves and mines in winter - when bats are hibernating and most vulnerable.

                As worrisome is that many bats continued to die this spring, dashing hopes that they would recuperate when they emerged from hibernation and resumed feeding. Hundreds of animals with scarred wings, both dead and alive, were discovered in Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire through June. The wing damage can kill bats and likely was caused by the fungus, researchers say.

                Biologists are also growing increasingly concerned that the fungus may be spreading to tens of thousands of healthy bats as the animals huddle together while sleeping in their summer roosts.

                Humans are not believed to be at risk from the illness, but a large die-off would likely affect people indirectly. The nocturnal mammals eat enormous amounts of crop-infesting and human-biting insects, and scientists say they know so little about bats that their ecological importance may become apparent only once they disappear.

                "We could be at the beginning of something much uglier," said Paul Cryan, a bat specialist with the United States Geological Survey in Colorado. He said researchers are beginning to realize that even if they identify a definite cause, it may be too late for thousands of bats. "What do we do then? We are thinking ahead to the spread of it."

                The disease was first seen two winters ago, when thousands of bats died in four New York caves within seven miles of each other. Many of the bats had an unusual white fungus on their bodies. By last winter, 25 caves and mines spread across 135 miles were found to have sick or dying bats in Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and New York. Pennsylvania bats may also be affected.

                Scientists originally dubbed the sickness "white nose syndrome" because of the fungus but believed it to be a secondary problem, one that grew on the bats when they were weakened by something else. That's because fungi are rarely fatal by themselves.

                But a meticulous search for another pathogen using cutting edge technology has come up short. While researchers say they are not ruling out other causes, such as something in the environment, a recent discovery that the fungus grows best in cold temperatures is training their attention back to it.

                Bats' immune systems appear to shut down when they are in deep hibernation, likely to conserve energy and because the parasites, bacteria, and viruses that would attack them are not normally active in the cold either. If a fungus exists in the caves that thrives in cold conditions, it could overtake the bats before their immune system has a chance to respond.

                Scientists' hypothesize that the bats could be waking up in the winter from the fungus - either to jumpstart their immune systems or simply to groom themselves. Under either scenario, the bats would burn up enormous amounts of fat reserves they need to survive the winter. That may be why so many skinny bats were seen dying on cave floors this past winter or flying into and out of mines in a futile search for food.

                "The attention has narrowed and focused on the fungus," said Vishnu Chaturvedi, director of the Mycology Laboratory at the New York State Department of Health and part of a team that discovered the cold-loving fungus. He said it will take time before scientists know for sure what is going on - and longer to find a solution - but "we're getting a number of clues."

                Some scientists are growing discouraged that they will find the answers in time. Some caves struck hard by the illness have lost 97 percent of their bat populations. A bat researcher monitoring a summer roost in New Hampshire estimates that about 25 percent of his colony is gone, likely from the bat sickness.

                Worries intensified this spring when researchers discovered bats with inflexible, scarred wings, likely from the fungus. Wings make up more than 75 percent of a bat's surface area and are critical for flying as well as for blood flow and to enable the animals to exchange heat, gas, and water with the air. If the wings are too damaged, the animal can die.

                "We thought if they made it through the winter they would be good to go, but that does not appear to be the case," said Jon Reichard, a Boston University graduate student who is monitoring two summer bat roosts in Massachusetts and New Hampshire where he has found hundreds of bats with damaged wings.

                Scientists are beginning to study whether bats might be harboring dormant fungal spores in summer roosts, increasing the risk of transmission.

                This is a frightening scenario: Bats migrate as far as 250 miles from their winter hibernating sites to their summer roosts, where they mix with bats from other far-off caves and mines. In the fall, they will travel back to their hibernation sites to mingle and mate with still other bats. If new bats are infected, the fungus could begin to grow on them as soon as temperatures dip low enough.

                "This condition represents a grave threat to (bats in) the northeastern US," said David Blehert, director of diagnostic microbiology at the US Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin.

                Beth Daley can be reached at
                Separate the wheat from the chaff


                • #23
                  Re: USA: Bats Die by the Thousands

                  Thanks Farmer,
                  bad news.

                  "Bats' immune systems appear to shut down when they are in deep hibernation, likely to conserve energy and because the parasites, bacteria, and viruses that would attack them are not normally active in the cold either. If a fungus exists in the caves that thrives in cold conditions, it could overtake the bats before their immune system has a chance to respond.
                  Some scientists are growing discouraged that they will find the answers in time. Some caves struck hard by the illness have lost 97 percent of their bat populations.
                  The nocturnal mammals eat enormous amounts of crop-infesting and human-biting insects, and scientists say they know so little about bats that their ecological importance may become apparent only once they disappear.
                  Scientists are beginning to study whether bats might be harboring dormant fungal spores in summer roosts, increasing the risk of transmission.

                  This is a frightening scenario: Bats migrate as far as 250 miles from their winter hibernating sites to their summer roosts, where they mix with bats from other far-off caves and mines. In the fall, they will travel back to their hibernation sites to mingle and mate with still other bats. If new bats are infected, the fungus could begin to grow on them as soon as temperatures dip low enough."

                  Don't leave the bats to extinction, as many other Earth creatures.

                  Exists enaugh labs to find an countermeasure versus the fungi to be sprayed in the main breeding caves, maybe.

                  Or to be sprayed on the bats and be apsorbed through their skin, to help them fight the illness.

                  And some envir. fund from which financing the above.


                  • #24
                    Re: USA: Bats Die by the Thousands

                    Mysterious bat deaths under study

                    Sunday, September 28, 2008

                    By Sara Foss (Contact)

                    Gazette Reporter

                    HAGUE — Nancy Heaslip kneels at the mouth of an entrance to an old graphite mine, waiting for the little brown bats.

                    She doesn’t have to wait long. They are plentiful tonight, emerging from the mine and fluttering about in the night sky. Occasionally one or two of them flies into a harmless trap positioned about 10 feet from the mine entrance, and Heaslip scoops them up and stuffs them in brown paper lunch bags. The time of capture is written on the bags in black pen.

                    7:18 . . . 7:30 . . . 7:59 . . .

                    Heaslip, who is wearing thick gloves and a headlamp, does this for an hour, and then transports the paper bags — about 40 of them — to a nearby work station. There the bats are weighed, their forearms are measured with calipers, and they are photographed prior to being either banded and freed, or euthanized, slipped into vials and stored in a cooler on dry ice. These bats will go to a lab for further scrutiny and testing.

                    It’s a painstaking process, and the four-member team labors until well after 1 a.m. They are led by Al Hicks, the mammal specialist for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s endangered species program, and they are here to help solve a mystery: Why are the bats dying?

                    Last winter, tens of thousands of hibernating bats died in caves and mines in eastern and upstate New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and northwestern Connecticut. Many, but not all, of these bats had a white fungus around their muzzles and other parts of their bodies; as a result, biologists named the affliction white-nose syndrome. Some of the bats hibernating in affected areas survived, but not many: In eight New York caves, the mortality rate ranged from 80 percent to 100 percent

                    white nose

                    Scientists have many questions about white-nose syndrome, and few answers. They don’t know what it is. They don’t know whether the bats are transmitting it among themselves, or whether people are spreading it, or whether it’s even killing the bats. What they do know is that what’s happening is unprecedented.

                    “Nothing similar has ever happened,” said Merlin Tuttle, director of Bat Conservation International, based in Austin, Texas, home of the world’s largest urban bat population. “There isn’t even a case, that we know of, of a major die-off of bats associated with disease. We’re looking at a big mystery so far.”

                    “Any time we start having mass die-offs, we ought to be taking it very seriously as a potential canary in the coal mine,” Tuttle continued. “We may be looking at a serious environmental crisis.” He suggested there are probably multiple causes. One factor, he said, may be population decline in groups of insects that bats rely on for food.

                    Tuttle doesn’t view the bat die-off as an isolated incident. Recently, scientists have been baffled by the unexplained disappearance of millions of commercial honeybees, a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, and a few years ago scientists reported that a strange new fungus that kills frogs, toads and other species of amphibians was spreading around the globe.

                    Hicks, too, views the bat die-off as symptomatic of an environment in crisis. He suggested that the world’s increasing population and “the increased rate that we move things around on this planet” are taxing the earth. “Our ability to move quickly and frequently around the planet allows ever increasing movement of organisms,” he said. Invasive species such as zebra mussels and purple loosestrife threaten to throw New York’s ecosystem out of whack, he said.

                    New York is considered the epicenter of the bat die-off.


                    In winter 2007, the state DEC received a report of unusual bat behavior at a cave outside of Albany. Heaslip, a wildlife biologist, led an expedition to Hailes Cave at Thacher Park, where she discovered hundreds of dead bats. These bats were emaciated and dehydrated, their fat reserves were exhausted and they were dying, or had died, of starvation.

                    Biologists had hoped the deaths at Hailes Cave were an isolated incident. But today, white-nose syndrome has been found at more than 30 sites in four states: New York, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts. This is a notable increase from 2007, when there were only four affected sites, all in caves located within seven miles of each other in Albany County.

                    Based on what happened between 2007 and 2008, scientists expect the number of white-nose sites to increase again this winter, said Robyn Niver, an endangered species biologist with the Northeast Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Over the summer, people reported seeing dead and dying little brown bats at their summer roosts in the four states with confirmed cases of white-nose syndrome, and also in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

                    “This is potentially devastating for Northeastern bat species,” Niver said.

                    Little brown bats, the most numerous bats in the Northeast, are being killed off in the greatest numbers. But the Indiana bat, which is listed as an endangered species, has also suffered, as have northern long-eared and small-footed bats, eastern pipistrelle and other bats using the same caves and mines.

                    detective work

                    Under darkening skies last week, Hicks and his crew hiked down an old mining road, using GPS to pinpoint the location of the mine entrance. Once they found it, they descended into a gully and began readying for a long night. It was a warm night for late September in the Adirondacks, which was good: When the temperature dips below 50 degrees, bats are disinclined to venture outside.

                    The trap they set up resembled a metal mattress frame and was strung with thin strings that were light enough to avoid detection, but strong enough to withstand the fluttering of the bats. Normally, the ensnared bats would automatically drop into a large bag at the base of the trap, but Hicks wanted to limit the bats’ contact with each other — “we’re not sure if white-nose is contagious” — and so all of the captured bats are bagged separately, by hand. To convince the bats to fly into the trap, rather than around it, a wall of sticks was erected on both sides of the trap.

                    At the work station, the team weighed the bats, measured their forearms, spread their wings to look for unusual scarring and holes — evidence of white-nose syndrome — and photographed their wings. The information, which describes the body condition of these bats, is recorded on a chart.

                    “This is an adult bat,” Hicks said, squinting at the squirming brown ball in his gloved palm. “Ow! I don’t like being bitten. The mass is 8.2 (grams).” He studied the wing. “There’s damage to the wing,” he said. “The membrane is not straight. ... But it looks like it’s healed.” The bat was placed on the table, and its wing was photographed. Another bat also had damaged wings: tiny holes and visible scarring.

                    Hicks was replicating an earlier study done years ago by Thomas Kunz, the director of the Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology at Boston University. The data his team gathers will be compared to data about bats in other affected sites in the Northeast, to data about bats in control sites in Kentucky and Pennsylvania where no trace of white-nose syndrome has been found, and to the bats in Kunz’s original study. The euthanized bats will be sent to a lab so scientists can learn more about the bats’ body content: the fat levels of the bats going into hibernation — “do they have enough fat?” — and what the composition of that fat is.

                    Hicks will collect bats once more before hibernation, and then twice while they are hibernating. In the other states where white-nose has been found, biologists are leading similar expeditions. Hicks said it’s unclear whether the white-nose fungus is causing the bats to be sick, or whether it’s a symptom of a sickness afflicting bats with weakened immune systems.

                    The states where white-nose has been found are also participating in a study of whether hibernating bats are waking up too early in the year, and whether these hibernating bats have enough fat stored to make it through the winter, according to Niver. A routine count of the endangered Indiana bat will be conducted this winter; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services expects the census to yield valuable information about how the species is faring post-white-nose syndrome.

                    necessary creatures

                    Bats are an important part of the ecosystem, and help keep the insect population in check, Tuttle said. “Bats are critically important in keeping insects in balance,” he said.

                    A bat can eat 50 percent to 75 percent of its body weight in flying insects a night during the summer months.

                    One of the first cases of white-nose syndrome was observed in 2008, in a non-commercial section of Howe Caverns in Schoharie County by caver Joe Armstrong, who serves as conservation chairman of the Northeastern Cave Conservancy. He had heard about the bat die-off in Albany County, and immediately contacted Hicks. At the time, Armstrong was taking a count of the bat population in Howe’s Cavern; only one bat out of 77, he said, exhibited the tell-tale fungus associated with white-nose syndrome.

                    Armstrong has continued to document the numbers of bats in area caves. Caves that were home to 1,000 to 1,500 bats in 2005, he said, had only a handful of bats in them last year; a cave where he had once counted 400 hibernating bats only had two.

                    “Addressing chronic disease is an issue of human rights – that must be our call to arms"
                    Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief The Lancet

                    ~~~~ Twitter:@GertvanderHoek ~~~ ~~~


                    • #25
                      Re: USA: Bats Die by the Thousands


                      Deadly, Mystery Bat Disease Spreads To New Jersey
                      Last Edited: Saturday, 24 Jan 2009, 4:37 PM EST
                      Created: Saturday, 24 Jan 2009, 4:35 PM EST

                      NEWARK, N.J. -- A mysterious disease that has killed thousands of bats in New England has spread to New Jersey.

                      And it's perplexing wildlife officials and raising concerns of a possible increase in bugs and pests.

                      The state Environmental Protection Department's Division of Fish and Wildlife says hundreds of bats are dying at two caves in Morris County that serve as a home to the furry insect-eaters during winter hibernation.

                      Mick Valent, the division's principal zoologist, says several bats found last month later died in rehabilitation, and others were found dead or emaciated.

                      All displayed a white fungus around their muzzles, a sign of what is called white-nose syndrome.

                      The disease has confounded biologists, who only know that the fungus and the deaths occur concurrently. It isn't known if the fungus is a cause or a symptom.


                      • #26
                        Re: USA: Bats Die by the Thousands

                        "The disease has confounded biologists, who only know that the fungus and the deaths occur concurrently. It isn't known if the fungus is a cause or a symptom."

                        A year without scientific explanation about allow us to make speculations.

                        For the bees emerges out that there were new kind of chemical pesticides involved into many exterminations.

                        Maybe the bats have indeed weakened their immune systems because of pollution, so they succubed to the fungus. Are such illness present also at some last natural resort sites, if not than maybe ...


                        • #27
                          Re: USA: Bats Die by the Thousands


                          White nose syndrome now threatening Pennsylvania bats

                          Tuesday, January 27, 2009
                          By John Hayes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

                          After nine months of research, biologists have confirmed the presence of a mysterious disease that has killed hundreds of thousands of bats in the northeastern United States.

                          White nose syndrome, so called for the fungus found around the faces and wings of many afflicted bats, isn't contagious to humans, household pets or other animals. But its sudden appearance, unknown pathology and potential to seriously harm the population of an environmentally vital mammal have scientists concerned.

                          Previously confirmed in New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey, conclusive evidence of white nose syndrome in Pennsylvania was discovered in late December at an old iron mine near Shindle, Mifflin County, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the state agency responsible for wildlife management.

                          DeeAnn Reeder, a biologist with Bucknell University, and Greg Turner, a biologist with the Game Commission's Wildlife Diversity Section, found the curious fungus during weekly field studies of three known Pennsylvania hibernation caves. The research is part of a multistate effort in Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Michigan and Kentucky funded primarily by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

                          After weeks with no changes among bats in the Mifflin County mine, on Dec. 20 Reeder and Turner noticed bats waking from hibernation and moving toward the mine's gated entrance -- unusual December behavior. A small amount of white fungus was detected on some. On Dec. 29, about 150 of the mine's 2,200 wintering bats appeared to be affected, Reeder and Turner said. By Jan. 5, about 45 percent of the colony had moved toward the mine's entrance. Dozens of bats suddenly developed the fungus around their muzzles and wing membranes, while others displayed additional symptoms.

                          Several of the bats were sent to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis., which reported last week that preliminary tests were positive for white nose syndrome.

                          "The visible fungus appears on some, but not all, [afflicted] bats, and a significant percentage of bats in affected hibernacula move closer to the entrance," said Turner. "The bats eventually leave their hibernacula -- often in daylight, which is unnatural."

                          Most of the prematurely exiting bats die, but some may return to the cavern.

                          "[We] cannot determine what the bats are searching for, or if they're hunting for anything," said Turner. "Most bats found dead on the landscape have depleted their fat reserves."

                          The outbreak has impacted recreational caving. Last year, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources closed Barton Cave, a popular Fayette County spelunking site, for one year as a precaution. And the National Speleological Society, which owns or manages 13 cave preserves nationwide, has banned spelunkers from five of its sites -- including Tytoona Cave Nature Preserve in Blair County -- until more is known.

                          The little brown bat has been hardest hit by white nose syndrome, but deaths have been reported among other species including northern myotis, Eastern small-footed myotis, long-eared Eastern pipistrelle and the endangered Indiana bat.

                          Researchers admit they're in the first stages of understanding the outbreak. While infection seems to spread from bat to bat, they don't know whether the fungus is a cause or symptom of the disorder. Afflicted bats are found emaciated and seem to have starved to death. Most troubling is that the impacted geographic area is expanding. First noticed in bat colonies in New York in 2006, white nose syndrome has spread to some, though not all, hibernacula in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey and now Pennsylvania.

                          Hardy mammals that have survived for about 50 million years, bats play an important ecological role in the environment. A bat can consume 25 percent of its body weight in flying insects during a night's feeding. In Pennsylvania alone, bats collectively eat tons of insects each night, impacting agriculture and the spread of insect-borne disease, not to mention backyard comfort.

                          Game Commission biologist Lisa Williams said the sudden appearance and rapid expansion of white nose disease has been frustrating for scientists and wildlife agencies.
                          John Hayes can be reached at or 412-263-1991


                          • #28
                            Re: USA: Bats Die by the Thousands

                            " First noticed in bat colonies in New York in 2006, white nose syndrome has spread to some, though not all, hibernacula in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey and now Pennsylvania.

                            Hardy mammals that have survived for about 50 million years, bats play an important ecological role in the environment. A bat can consume 25 percent of its body weight in flying insects during a night's feeding.

                            Infectuous spreading, or not.

                            But it is not infectious if looking at #29:

                            "... the fungus found around the faces and wings of many afflicted bats, isn't contagious to humans, household pets or other animals."

                            So it can be linked to agriculture also, as were for the bees on the afected landscapes near the agricultural new pesticide treated ones (EU/It/...).

                            "In Pennsylvania alone, bats collectively eat tons of insects each night, impacting agriculture and the spread of insect-borne disease, not to mention backyard comfort."

                            Maybe the insects they feed on carried into harming chems/gmo which disrupted the bats immune system and make it colapsing after the starving wintering period in the caves.


                            • #29
                              Re: USA: Bats Die by the Thousands


                              Bats are dying off across the Hudson Valley
                              February 3, 2009

                              ROSENDALE — Deadly white-nose syndrome is striking more bats over a larger area this winter, reaching south into New Jersey and Pennsylvania and emptying caves in hard-hit areas like New York.

                              “There are not as many as there are supposed to be,” bat counter Ryan von Linden whispered deep inside a cave in New York’s Hudson Valley. His headlamp swept across isolated clusters of bats hanging of the rock ceiling. “Not even close.”

                              Two winters after it was first observed, bats in at least a half-dozen states have been infected by white nose and a suspicious sighting has closed a cave preserve in West Virginia as a precaution. While researchers recently identified the fungus that creates the distinctive white smudges on hibernating bats’ noses and wings, they are scrambling to find a way to stop the scourge before it spreads even farther.

                              “The cause for concern is that this is going to race across the country faster than we can come up with a solution,” said Alan Hicks, a wildlife biologist with New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation. “Now that is entirely possible.”

                              Hicks and von Linden were among more than a dozen researchers who recently lowered themselves by rope into a sprawling old limestone mine about 80 miles north of New York City to assess white nose damage. They spent the day clambering over rocks and padding across patches of subterranean ice to count bats, a painstaking process that requires digital pictures of every bat hibernating in the cathedral-like space.

                              The news was grim.

                              Hicks estimated the number of Indiana bats, an endangered species, is down 15 to 35 percent from last year’s cave-wide count of roughly 19,000. The number of little brown bats, a species devastated by white nose, was also down.

                              Cave counters speak to each other in church whispers, but some hibernating bats are bothered just the same. A chorus of squeaks echoed in the blackness above and a few fluttered by visitors’ headlamps.

                              The researchers also plucked 14 groggy little brown bats from the rock, weighed them, measured them, snipped a little spot of hair on their backs and stuck a tiny radio transmitter to their backs to track their activity levels. It is part of ongoing research to better understand the syndrome.

                              Bats with white nose burn through their fat stores before spring, driving some to rouse early from hibernation in a futile search for food. The syndrome poses no health threat to humans, though some scientists say that if bat populations diminish too much, the insects and crop pests they eat could flourish.

                              First noticed in a few caves west of Albany two winters ago, white nose spread fast last winter to dozens of caves within a roughly 150-mile radius, affecting New York and southern New England.

                              It’s spreading again this winter.

                              Bats with white nose were recently found in New Jersey’s Morris County and in an old iron mine in Shindle, Pa., more than 200 miles away from the outbreak’s epicenter. In West Virginia, the National Speleological Society has temporarily shut down the John Guilday Caves Nature Preserve as a possible white nose sighting is investigated. If confirmed, it would increase the radius of infected caves to around 450 miles.

                              Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Wildlife Health Center this fall established that the sugary smudges on affected bats are a previously undescribed type of fungus that thrives in the refrigerator-like cold of winter caves. David Blehert, head of microbiology at the Madison, Wis., center, is leading experiments to definitively establish whether the fungus causes white-nose syndrome.

                              Still, there is enough circumstantial evidence to lead biologists to focus on ways to stop the fungus.

                              Since the fungus likes it cold and moist, they could try to lower humidity levels in at least some crucial caves, though that could create other problems. Researchers are also looking at the possibility of a fungicide, or even a fungus-killing bacteria that could spread from bat to bat. Ward Stone, New York’s wildlife pathologist, said he has been able to culture a bacteria that lives on big brown bats and kills the white-nose fungus in a lab.

                              Still, tests need to be performed to see if any of the options are realistic. And as Blehert notes, time is “our biggest enemy.”

                              Already, there are 40 confirmed white nose sites in the last few years, said Jeremy Coleman, white nose coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service based in Cortland, N.Y. He added the numbers could soon rise as cave inspections and bat counts begin in earnest this month.

                              “It could get a lot worse,” Coleman said, “because the season’s early.”


                              • #30
                                Re: USA: Bats Die by the Thousands


                                Pennsylvania bats dying from syndrome
                                By Allison M. Heinrichs
                                Tuesday, February 3, 2009

                                The Pennsylvania Game Commission is asking the public to help it determine the extent of a disease that is killing the state's wintering bat communities.

                                Last week game commission conservation officers confirmed that bats were dead or dying of White-Nose Syndrome in a Lackawanna County abandoned mine near Carbondale. Today they announced that several hundred brown bats are dead from the syndrome at another cave in the county.

                                The bats, which are not supposed to emerge from hibernation for six weeks, are flying from their caves and dropping dead at the entrance, game commission officials said.

                                People should not enter the caves and shouldn't handle the bats, officials cautioned.

                                "Roughly 50 percent of the bats in the mine near Carbondale displayed the characteristic white fungus," Kevin Wenner, an agency biologist, said in a news release.

                                "Some (are) dying in the mine, while others were flying around and dying outside on top of the snow. The bases of several trees near the mine entrance had piles of dead bats around them. Hundreds were visible on top of the most recent snow, so I suspect there are thousands of dead bats."

                                White-Nose Syndrome is caused by a white fungus that appears around the muzzles and on wing membranes of infected bats. The syndrome first surfaced in New York and spread through New England, so Pennsylvania officials have anticipated an outbreak since last spring.

                                In New York it illed more than 90 percent of the bats in infected colonies.

                                Bats in a Mifflin County mine have tested positive for the fungi.

                                "This mine may be the next hibernaculum where bats 'fly and die,'" agency biologist Greg Turner said. "There's a good chance bats are leaving other hibernacula instate and dying on the landscape, but we haven't found them yet. That is why we are asking for the public's help."

                                The game commission is asking that anyone who encounters dead or dying bats call the nearest Game Commission region office (724-238-9523 in Southwestern Pennsylvania) or fill out the "Report Sick Bats" form in the left-hand column of the agency's Web page.

                                Allison M. Heinrichs can be reached at or 412-380-5607.