Thursday, March 14, 2013

Bat-killing syndrome spreads to its 22nd state

A fungus that has killed millions of bats since it was first observed in 2006 has now reached 22 states, after bats in South Carolina and Georgia tested positive for the deadly fungus. Bat populations that contract white-nose syndrome -- named because the fungus manifests as a fuzzy white patch on bats’ noses, wings and other hairless parts of their body -- have a mortality rate of 70 to 100 percent, writes John R. Platt writes for Scientific American.

We reported in September about conservationists who built an artificial cave in Tennessee in an effort to save bats. At that time more than 5.7 million bats had died from the fungus. (Photo: A little brown bat showing symptoms of white-nose syndrome in Greeley Mine, Vermont, in March 2009 by Marvin Moriarty, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Bats have an important role in regulating insect populations, a function that is vital to successful agriculture. A recent study found that the loss of North American bats could lead to agricultural losses of more than $3.7 billion per year, writes Platt.

The National Wildlife Health Center says bats affected by white-nose syndrome often display abnormal behaviors in their hibernation sites, such as movement toward the mouth of caves and daytime flights during winter. These abnormal behaviors may contribute to the untimely consumption of stored fat reserves causing emaciation.

Syndrome spread shown by recent years in warmer colors (Click map for larger image)

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