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How White-Nosed Syndrome is Affecting Bats in Upstate New York

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Attempts to Cure an Epidemic Affecting Bats in New York

The Bat Health Crisis in Upstate New York

White-Nosed Syndrome (WTS) has destroyed 90 percent of the northern bat population. Photo Courtesy of Mother Nature Network. Most of us that live in upstate New York are totally unaware of the wildlife health crisis occurring in our own backyards. The bat epidemic called White-Nosed Syndrome (WTS) has destroyed 90 percent of the northern bat population. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) reports that the deadly fungus scientists refer to as Geomyces destructans is a disease discovered in 2006 in Howe’s Cavern, Schoharie County.

“It’s pretty doom and gloom in the Northeast,” said Ann Froschauer, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published in Adirondack Explorer’sBats survival at stake.”  “Our mortality numbers are astounding. I recently went into Aeolus Cave in Vermont, where historically there were three hundred thousand bats. There were thirty-six bats left. They were wiped out in just two years’ time.”

The Center for Biological Diversity filed petitions to save bats and limit human access to caves on federal lands across the lower 48 states. At their request, the federal service agreed to granting Endangered Species Act protection to the northern long-eared bat, but the eastern small-footed bat is under review.

There is no cure to stop the fungus, which leaves a fuzzy patch of white around the noses, ears and wings of infected animals. Once WTS takes hold of the central nervous system, the fungus attacks the poor creature’s skin, stripes away their hair follicles and sweat glands that help regulate their body temperature, respiration and hydration. Wing tissues die because oxygen is not there and dehydration sets in. The bats wake up pre-mature from hibernation. They leave their home to look for food, using up much of their stored fat reserves. In the process, most die from cold and starvation.

“We thought the fungus was just waking them up,” Froschauer said. “We’re now learning that it’s disrupting them physiologically.”

Experts believe that the source of the disease had been introduced by a human visitor, most likely someone from Europe. A study in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases said the fungus has been found on bats in Germany, Switzerland and Hungary, yet none of them died in those countries. “It’s possible that the fungus coevolved with the bats in Europe, so there may be a symbiotic relationship,” Froschauer said. “Our bats here don’t have any defenses.”

Nearly 5.7 million bats have been wiped out of existence when WNS had been discovered in just six short years, killing half of the wintering bat population the year it was found. The plague swept across to other states like Vermont, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and even into Canada.

Vital to the health of our ecosystem as the vampires in the seascape of the human imagination, bats keep down on the insect population. They maintain a balanced environment, saving the agricultural industry billions of dollars on pesticides, by feasting on mosquitoes, moths and beetles. One bat will consume a thousand mosquito-sized insects every hour that they are feeding.

Bats heading out for the night. Photo Courtesy of Mother Nature Network.Of the 45 species in existence, the Empire State is home to nine species, six of which hibernate. All six of the hibernating bats are also dying in droves. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials said they have no recourse to combat this deadly disease; yet scientists are searching for a cure, testing close to 2,000 different compounds, which have been unable to kill the fungus.

A new study according to Adirondack’s Life’s article “Will Bats Rebound?” written by Mary Thill sees an increase from 1,496 to 2,402 little brown bats DEC found while they monitored five different caves near Albany.

Though no remedy has yet to be invented, scientists hope bats will develop immunity to the disease. The DEC said, based on their findings, that they think the decline in little brown bats may have stabilized; but it will take years for them to know for sure.

“What we’re seeing isn’t consistent from site to site,” said Al Hicks, a retired specialist during an interview that still conducts research from DEC. “Some sites do better than others, meaning there’s a lower percentage of animals dying in some sites. All of them are pretty much dying at rates that we’d consider horrendous.”

What can we do to help save the bats? The Center for Biological Diversity recommends planting wildflower gardens to help attract bugs for the bats to eat. Build or buy a bat house. As an advocate, we can combine efforts in our schools, companies, towns and communities to:

  • Pressure Congress to finally provide $10.8 million in research money to find the best ways to stop WTN;
  • Pass the Wildlife Disease Emergency Act; and
  • Persuade state and federal land managers to restrict all but the most essential human travel into caves and abandoned mines, especially those in the West, where the disease has yet to have an impact on the environment.

We can donate and/or become a member of Center for Biological Diversity. For more information about helping the bats, call toll-free 866-357-3349, visit Save Our or send an email to

–Diana Denner is a Contributor to The Free George. Photos Courtesy of Mother Nature Network.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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