When asked about bats and White-nose syndrome, most people would know very little about either. Bats, the mysterious winged mammals, play a crucial role in the environment, providing many ecosystem services including pollination, seed dispersal, and pest control. The most common bat in New Jersey is the Little Brown bat, which can range from just 3 to 5 pounds. Though such a small animal, one bat can eat up to 110% of its body weight in bugs. “A colony of 100 little brown bats may eat 19.2 kg (42 lb.) of insects in four months, which indicates the important influence this species (and other bats as well ) has on insect populations(1). Due to the bat’s high volume bug consumption rate, the small mammals greatly help people by eating harmful and crop-destroying insects. However, bats are a common target for vilification and false superstition. Many people believe that all bats are aggressive and carry rabies, but that assumption is unfounded. Less than 1% of bats actually carry rabies (2) and most bats are gentle creatures that just get scared when under stress. Also, bats found nesting in homes are often improperly removed and are harmed or killed during the process.
In 2006, a disease called White-nose Syndrome was found in a New York Cave and has caused over 6 million deaths of bats in North America in recent years. Studies show that the fungal disease has infected over 25 states and five Canadian provinces, and the virus is continuing to spread. White-nose Syndrome (WNS) is a fungal disease that often spreads in mines and targets hibernating bats. The disease’s name is derived from the physical effects it causes including a “white fungal growth on the muzzle and the tacky white discoloration on wings and ears. (3)” The causative agent behind White-nose syndrome is the fungus, Psuedogymnoascys destructans, and is believed to be an invasive species originally from Europe. P. destructans is a psychrophilic fungus, meaning that is is an organism capable of growth and reproduction in cold temperatures, ranging from −20 °C to +10 °C (4). This capability explains why WNS can affect the bats during hibernation in the winter. Since the bats are in hibernation, their immune systems are weak and cannot fight off the disease. WNS infection causes the painful deterioration of the bats’ skin tissue, specifically their fragile wings, which can wake them up prematurely from hibernation. Often, bats that have been woken up by the pain attempt to leave the cave in harsh winter conditions and perish, usually due to starvation.
For the past three summers, I have been volunteering at the New Jersey Bat Sanctuary, a rehabilitation center devoted to healing infected bats and spreading awareness about WNS to the public. I am an assistant to the head of the NJ sanctuary, Jackie Kashmer, a wildlife rehabilitator of over 20 years. I have been trying to raising awareness for WNS by creating brochures, setting up a page for NJ Bats on social platforms, and giving talks to local groups. As stated in a scientific journal she co-published, Jackie found that bats could be rehabilitated under extensive care while using a diluted vinegar treatment to fight the disease. “Provision of supportive care to homeothermic bats was sufficient for full recovery from WNS. (3)” Though she puts in several hours a day looking after the bats, Kashmer believes that her work cannot solve the problem alone. Just this summer she told me that the fight against White-nose syndrome will soon become pointless, as there is not much anyone can do to save the bats without great help and research. This is a threatening issue that most of the nation is not aware of. After the work I have done with Jackie, I have learned much more about bats and how greatly they help our environment. With this knowledge, I urge the Pingry community to also learn more about the issue and advocate for the bats!
by Lindsey Yu
(1) Saunders, D. A. 1988. Adirondack Mammals. State University of New York,College of Environmental Science and Forestry. 216pp.
(2) Klug, Brandon J., Turmelle, Amy S., Ellison, James A., Baerwald, Erin F., Barclay, Robert M. R. “Rabies Prevalence in Migratory Tree-Bats in Alberta and the Influence of Roosting Ecology and Sampling Method on Reported Prevalence of Rabies in Bats.” J Wildl Dis, 2011 47: 64-77 [link]
(3)Meteyer CU, Valent M, Kashmer J, Buckles EL, Lorch JM, et al. (2011) Recovery of little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) from natural infection with Geomyces destructans, white-nose syndrome. J Wildl Dis 47: 618–626. [PubMed]
(4)Wikipedia contributors. “Psychrophile.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 17 Oct. 2015. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.
(5) O’neill, James. “Fear of Extinction Grows as Numbers of Little Brown Bats Dwindle in N.J.” NorthJersey.com. North Jersey Record, 9 May 2013. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.