When I was younger I did a lot of spelunking. I grew up in an area blessed with a karst topography. Winter is an ideal time to go spelunking; temperatures in caves remain consistent year-round, water levels are usually lower, and often you get to see bats hibernating.
Bats are an essential, beneficial part of the ecosystem. They play critical roles in insect control, plant pollination, seed dissemination and cave ecosystems. They provide food for other animals (hawks, owls, raccoons, skunks, etc.). Consuming over half their body weight in insects nightly, bats reduce the need for insecticides and are a major predator of night-flying insects. Bats also play a significant role in science and medicine. Bat research has enabled advancements in sonar, vaccine development and blood coagulation, as well as artificial insemination. Decimation of bat populations will cause a substantial ecological ripple effect, with far-reaching consequences.
Many of our winter campers feel strongly about the danger poised by White Nose Syndrome in bats. The disease is named for the fuzzy white fungus that grows on sick bats’ noses. White Nose Syndrome is killing large portions of various bat populations in the United States as they hibernate in caves and mines. Bats are losing their fat reserves that are needed to survive hibernation. This is happening long before winter is over. And, the bats are dying of starvation.
While the cause is unknown, WNS is attributed to a fungus, Geomyces destructans, which may also appear on the bat’s wings, ears and tail. However, bats affected with WNS do not always have the fungus growing on their bodies. They may, instead, display abnormal behavior such as flying outside during the day in near-freezing weather or not arousing at all after being disturbed.
Mortality rates of 70-100% have been documented in the first year in many hibernacula found to have WNS. In caves where fewer than 100% of the bats died the first year, populations continue to decline in successive years. Damage to wings and bodies persists in bats that survive a winter in a WNS-infected population.
One of our WinterCampers, Sparky, has created an informational video about WNS. It can been seen by clicking the link below.SHARE