July 25, 2011

Where Did the Bats Go?

By Program Intern Alyssa Piper

You may have heard about or noticed first-hand the decrease in the bat population across the Eastern United States. There are fewer swooping black figures at dusk and a significant (imagined or not!) increase in pesky insects. The question to many is, what happened to them? Well, to the best of researchers’ knowledge, a fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome is decimating the bat population, with population numbers dropping rapidly. The Science Center is here to tell you a little more about the disease, facts about bats native to New Hampshire, and what you can do to help.

What is White Nose Syndrome?
In 2006, a caver 40 miles west of Albany, New York discovered White Nose Syndrome. He noticed several dead bats in the cave and an unusual white substance on most of the mouth and nose region of the cave inhabitants . The following winter, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation documented the disease as White Nose Syndrome, or WNS, a disease affecting hibernating bats.

Today, we know that a fungus, probably one called Geomycesdestructans causes the disease. Not much is known about G. destructans, though scientists are fervently researching the dynamics and transmission of the infection looking for a way to control it.

Unfortunately, WNS has already killed over a million bats in the United States and Canada, and it is spreading. In some caves, 90% to 100% of the hibernating bat population has perished. Half of the 45 bat species rely on caves for hibernation during the winter, and of that half, 11 species have WNS or are at risk of being infected. Of those 11 species, five are native to New Hampshire and are affected by WNS: big brown bat, little brown bat, eastern small-footed bat, northern long-eared bat, and tricolored bat.

A Few Bat Facts
  • The little brown bat is the world’s longest-lived mammal for its size, with life spans sometimes exceeding 32 years.
  • A single little brown bat can catch 1,200 insects in one hour.
  • A colony of 150 big brown bats can protect local farmers from up to 33 million or more rootworms each summer.
  • In the wild, important agricultural plants, from bananas, breadfruit, and mangos to cashews, dates, and figs rely on bats for pollination and seed dispersal.
  • An anticoagulant from vampire bat saliva may soon be used to treat human heart patients.
  • Contrary to popular misconception, bats are not blind and do not become entangled in human hair.
  • Bats are exceptionally vulnerable to extinction, in part because they are the slowest reproducing mammals on Earth for their size, most producing only one young annually.
What You Can Do to Help!
  • Avoid going into caves or other hibernacula (where animals hibernate) where bats are known or are suspected to hibernate.
  • Report unusual bat behavior or observed deaths to your state natural resource agency. Who in NH?
  • Minimize disturbance to natural bat habitat around your home, for instance minimize lighting at night and steer away from clearing more trees than needed.
  • Build homes for bats! See the link below to learn how to build a bat house
See these links for instructions on how to build a bat home. It’s a great summer project and relatively easy for anyone to do!
Bat House Assembly
Bat House Directions

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