Bats are often feared and even more often misunderstood. Bats in the United States, however, are under attack but not from the most likely sources but from a fungal disease. Soon people on the East Coast may not even have to fear bats at all as they may not even exist there in two decades.
The fungal pathogen is called Geomyces destructans and is being found naturally in the environment. The fungus prefers damp, dark locales, just like bats. The fungus is believed to have been brought to the United State from Europe, either from something as simple as someone’s shoe or from an accidentally shipped bat. The fungus causes symptoms such as a white-nose, which is why the fungal infections have been called white-nose syndrome.
Bats with white-nose syndrome have a tell-tale white nose, and sometimes white patches on their wins, ears or tails. Bats experience weight loss from the infection and have been known to develop odd behaviors, such as flying during the day. Such infections have led to at least a million bat deaths in fourteen U.S. states. While the fungus is not harmful to humans, it has been shown to infect multiple kinds of bats, including little brown, big brown, northern long-eared and Indiana bats.
It is thought that the fungus could lead to an extinction of bats in the Northeastern United States within twenty years. Due to such dire circumstances, scientists have been at a loss as to how to stop the onslaught of the infections. However, recent recommendations to cull bats has recently been proven to not be the solution.
Scientists writing in the journal Conservation Biology studied how the white-nose syndrome was being passed from individual bats. The scientists concluded that general bat behavior, including coming together in large groups from various different locations at any given time, in addition to the fungus being present in the environment, makes culling an illogical solution.
Europe, where the fungus is thought to originate, has been shown to have the fungus and bats impacted by the syndrome. However, European bats are larger and appear to overall have resistance to white-nose syndrome. Currently, scientists have no solution for the plague of deaths from white-nose syndrome. However, scientists are working to gain greater knowledge of the fungus, such as sequencing its DNA, in order to try and find a potential solution.