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.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
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.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs