News

Deadly Bat Plague Spreads to Midwestern US

'White-nose syndrome' has killed millions of bats

A deadly disease in bats called “white-nose syndrome” was confirmed on this tri-colored bat from a cave in Lincoln County, Missouri in March 2012. The name describes the white fungus shown on the face and wings of the infected bat.
A deadly disease in bats called “white-nose syndrome” was confirmed on this tri-colored bat from a cave in Lincoln County, Missouri in March 2012. The name describes the white fungus shown on the face and wings of the infected bat.

A fungal disease that has killed more than 5.5 million bats in the eastern United States and Canada is making its way west.

What's known as "white-nose syndrome" has now been diagnosed in three Missouri bats - the first confirmed cases west of the Mississippi, and St. Louis scientists say it won’t stop there.

Since white-nose syndrome was first discovered in bats near Albany, New York, in early 2007, it has devastated bat populations in the eastern U.S..

“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do to stop it,” says Tony Elliott, a scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, who says he knew it was only a matter of time before the disease crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri.

That’s because white-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus that easily passes from bat to bat. The disease is named for the powdery white growth that can sometimes coat an infected bat’s muzzle and wings. The fungus penetrates the bat’s skin, eating away at the thin, semi-translucent membranes of its wings, tail, and ears.

But, there’s still plenty scientiests don’t know about the disease.

“It is still a bit of a mystery exactly what the ultimate cause of death is,” Elliott says.

What is clear is that the fungus is changing the bats’ behavior.

“In heavily infected sites, the bats roost in odd locations," Elliott says, "often near the entrance of the site, and will be seen flying out of the site in the middle of the day, in the middle of the winter sometimes, when there’s obviously no good reason for them to be flying out and around.”

Scientists have a number of theories about why the bats are dying. They may be using up their winter fat reserves too soon and starving to death. Bats that go out in the daytime make easy pickings for predators. They might be dying from the cold. And since bats regulate water loss through their wings, the flesh-eating fungus could cause deadly dehydration.

Some species have been hit harder than others. The once-common little brown bat has seen its northeastern populations plummet. Five other species have also been affected.

“We are basically monitoring and watching one of the greatest population declines through disease that’s ever been recorded for a mammal species, and that is certainly of concern, to put it mildly,” says Jeremy Coleman, national white-nose syndrome coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Now that white-nose has crossed the Mississippi, he believes it will likely spread throughout the Midwest,  and not just westward.

“This past winter we did see white nose confirmed in northeastern Alabama, which is also disconcerting, especially given the fact that this winter was very warm, uncharacteristically so,” Coleman says.

Some scientists had hoped the cold-loving fungus that causes white-nose syndrome wouldn't be able to survive so far south.

It’s not clear what the loss of so many bats will mean for the environment. Tony Elliott says bat guano provides nutrients to cave ecosystems. And bats eat a lot of insects - many of them pests on forests and crops.

“We estimate that there may be 800,000 to a million gray bats living in Missouri," he says. "And doing the math out, that could lead to over 540 tons of insects eaten per year by just that one species in Missouri.”

Without bats, those insects could become a costly headache for farmers.

So far, there’s no way to treat white-nose syndrome, or stop it from spreading from bat to bat. According to Elliott, the only thing we can do is limit access to public caves, and have people who do go caving disinfect their clothes and gear.

White-nose syndrome has already reached 19 states. And scientists expect it to keep going.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs