Since White Nose Syndrome was discovered in a New York cave in February 2006, bat populations throughout the northeast and several mid Atlantic states have been devastated with more than one million bats dying from what researchers believe is linked to this fungus.
The fungus found on the bats has been identified as Pseudogymnoascus destructans and typically appears on the faces and wings of hibernating bats, but is virtually never seen on the bats once they leave the caves. It is not known how the fungus adversely affects the bats or if it truly is the cause of their deaths. Hibernating bats commonly awaken during the winter to hydrate themselves with moisture that condenses on their fur. However, affected bats awaken more frequently which uses up much of their fat reserves.
Consequently, in mid-winter the bats become hungry and awaken to hunt for food. Of course, there are no insects flying in January or February and the bats generally die from starvation or freeze to death.
WNS has affected all five of our cave bat species here in Connecticut. Since these cave bats are long-lived animals (some can live 20 years or more) and their reproductive rate is slow – usually one pup per year, to recover from the more than one million bats that have already succumbed to WNS, will take many years. Until researchers understand the disease better, little can be done to mitigate it.
Researchers are hard at work, however, and you can help. Whether you’ve seen a bat out during winter; one or more roosting in your bat house, barn, or eaves during summer; or even a dead bat, the Wildlife Division wants to hear about it. Details on how to report sightings and sighting forms is on the DEEP Bats in Connecticut page.
Further questions or comments on bats and WNS can be submitted to the DEEP Wildlife Division Bat Program, at Sessions Woods WMA, P.O. Box 1550, Burlington, CT 06013; 860-675-8130; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image: CT DEEP