Alabama: White Nose Disease Strikes Bat Cave Endangering One Million

B. McPherson
 Bat with white nose syndrome and electron micrograph of fungus on bat hair

White nose disease has been detected in the Fern Cave National Refuge in Alabama. It is home to about one million endangered gray bats and is their principal wintering cave. The disease has wiped out whole populations of bats since its introduction to N. America in 2006.

It has not been confirmed how the disease spread from Europe to this continent, but suspicions lie with bat researchers or cavers who inadvertently brought spores of the fungus back with them in their clothes or equipment. The fungus Geomyces destructans, attacks the muzzle and wings showing up as white fuzz on the nose of the bats. They break their winter hibernation and fly out of their caves searching for insects which, of course, are not around in the winter. The bats die of starvation.

"White-nose syndrome has arrived in the very core of gray bat habitat and it's like a bomb waiting to go off. Despite this bad news, federal agencies in the West are backtracking on precautionary cave measures," Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity," Counsel andHeal

This horrendous disease likened to smallpox in its devastating effects has now been confirmed in 22 US states and five Canadian provinces. In Canada, Environment Canada has set aside $300 000 to hire a person to coordinate information and distribute research findings on the disease and its spread.

Many city dwellers have never seen a bat and think of them as flying vermin. They do carry diseases and people are advised to not handle them. Bats are protected animals in Canada. They are a very valuable link in our agriculture and pest control … and they do it for free, out of sight and soundlessly. Bats provide for billions of dollars’ worth of insect control and pollination during the growing seasons. They are as important as honey bees in our environment and they come without stingers.

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