Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bat fungal infection

This is not bee related, but it is interesting. A fungal infection called white-nose syndrome is wiping out bat populations in the Northeast. I put out my bat house, I'll be curious to see if I can attract some bats this year.

As creepy as some people find them, bats play important roles in plant pollination, seed dissemination and pest control. One little brown bat can consume 1,000 mosquito-size bugs in an hour. Their appetite for pests spares U.S. farmers an estimated $1 billion a year in crop losses and insecticide costs.

White-nose syndrome first appeared in 2006, in a cave near Albany, N.Y. Hibernating bats were found with a white substance on their faces and wings. All were emaciated; many were dead.

Some were clustered near the cave entrances or flying nearby long before they should have left hibernation and before enough insects had emerged to sustain them.

Genetic analysis revealed the fungus to be an unknown member of the cold-loving Geomyces genus. A similar fungus has been seen on bats in Europe, but it has not killed them, Haskew said. It's possible the fungus was somehow transported into North America and began spreading among native bats that have no natural resistance.

The fungus is not known to affect humans, and scientists are only beginning to learn how it affects bats. Some suspect it is an irritant that causes them to awaken frequently during hibernation. A Bucknell University study found that infected bats were waking every two to three days. Disease-free bats rouse every 10 to 18 days.

The frequent disruptions apparently cause the bats to burn too much body fat. They leave the cave too soon in search of food that isn't there, and they starve.

By 2007, the contagion had spread to more caves in upstate New York. By late winter 2008, it was devastating hibernation sites, or hibernacula, in Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Hundreds of thousands of bats died, 90 percent to 100 percent of each colony.
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