Bats threatened as millions are reported dead in New Hampshire by fungal ailment
State officials say the fate of the Little Brown Bat in the Granite State teeters on the brink and several other bat species are endangered as the spread of white nose syndrome continues to wreak havoc on the state’s winged nocturnals.
Scientists studying white nose syndrome in bats estimate the fungal ailment has killed at least 5.7 million bats in 16 states and Canada, providing alarming new numbers about the scope of its decimation.
First detected in a cave west of Albany, N.Y., in 2006, white nose has spread to 16 states from the Northeast to the South and as far west as Kentucky. It also has been detected in four Canadian provinces.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the new estimate on Jan. 17.
Emily Brunkhurst, wildlife biologist for the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, said the state has seen significant losses in its number of bats.
“It’s very scary,” she said. “It’s hitting the Little Brown and Long-Eared bats the hardest. In some hibernacula there are no bats left where formerly there were 800-900 bats.”
Bats are a top nocturnal predator, picking off night-flying insects that feed on agricultural crops and forests. A reproductive female consumes her weight in bugs each night. In a single summer, a colony of 150 brown bats can eat enough adult cucumber beetles to prevent the laying of eggs that result in 33 million rootworm larvae, according to a study cited by Bat Conservation International.
Brunkhurst said the impact of the loss of so many bats could be felt as early as this coming summer.
Not much is know about the mysterious white nose syndrome. It is caused by an aggressive fungus called Geomyces destructans that eats through the skin and membranes of bats. It was first detected at Howes Cave near Albany, N.Y., in 2006.
The bats become emaciated and then some bats come out of hibernation and fly in search of food or water. This means they are flying in the winter, when there is no food and the temperatures are much colder than bats can stand. Many die soon after flying out of the caves and mines, or in the mine itself. Others seek shelter in houses and other buildings to escape the cold temperatures.