Tag Archives: bat disease

Habitat partnership bats a thousand in Pennsylvania

Today we’re sharing the hard work of Tom and Wendy Belinda, who have dedicated themselves to conserving habitat for endangered Indiana Bats on their land in Blair County, Pennsylvania. White-nose syndrome, human disturbance, and habitat loss have caused our nation’s bat populations to plummet. Close proximity to places where bats roost and hibernate makes the Belindas’ property prime real estate for bat conservation in Pennsylvania.

Indiana Bats

Credit: Ann Froscheaur/USFWS

Working with federal agencies like the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and local partners, has allowed the Belindas to manage their property for the benefit of Indiana Bats and other vulnerable species. However, enhancing the health of their forests not only improves wildlife habitat, it also boosts the value and productivity of their land. A true win-win.

Check out our bat story map to learn more about the nationwide effort to conserve bats.

For more information about white-nose syndrome, visit www.whitenosesyndrome.org.

Bat to the Future

A 100-year-old bat specimen housed at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. may help scientists unravel the mystery behind white-nose syndrome, a disease that has devastated North American bat populations.

Myotis bechsteinii. Photo by Sam Dyer Ecology.

Researchers from the Smithsonian Institution, University of New Hampshire, Bucknell University, and the University of Adelaide in Australia used DNA analysis to detect Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome (WNS), on a Bechstein’s bat (Myotis bechsteinii) collected on May 9, 1918 in Forêt de Russy, Centre-Val de Loire, France. The discovery supports the presence of WNS in Europe and Asia more than 100 years ago and shows how ancient specimens can inform modern day research.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s biological collections (25 million specimens) preserved in fluids, such as alcohol and formalin, and informally known as the “wet collections.” The facility has the latest technology for the safe use of flammable liquids.

Dr. Michael Campana, a computational genomics scientist at the Smithsonian Institution Conservation Biology Institute’s Center for Conservation Genomics, said archived museum collections are critical for studying emerging diseases like white-nose syndrome. As a computational genomics scientist, Campana uses computational and statistical analysis to decipher biology from genome sequences and related data. Campana’s colleague, Carly Muletz-Wolz, also used museum specimens to investigate the historical prevalence of the fungal pathogens Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and B. salamandrivorans in amphibians, information that has conservation plan implications.

“Without archived specimens from the past, the evolutionary history of an animal or pathogen is inferred, but not confirmed,” Campana said. “Without archived specimens, the genomic history is inferred from limited modern data, limitations that may cause incorrect inferences. By seeing a pathogen’s genetics from the past, you can more accurately infer its evolutionary history.”

Named for the white fungus that is visible primarily on the muzzle of the bat, WNS was first documented in North America during the winter of 2006 in New York state. To date, the disease has killed more than 6 million bats in 31 states and 5 provinces. In the winter months, bats carefully and precisely measure their energy expenditure to survive until spring. Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and U.S. Geological Survey have hypothesized that P. destructans kills bats by increasing the amount of energy they use during hibernation, thereby inhibiting normal physiological functions.

White-nose syndrome occurrence map as of August 2017. Map provided by white-nosesyndrome.org, A Coordinated Response to the Devastating Bat Disease.

Campana said genetic studies of present day bat specimens and historic samples both inform effective conservation by comparing genetic differences leading to adaptations. Currently, WNS is occurring in multiple bat populations in Europe and Asia, yet the bat populations are not declining as seen in WNS-infected populations in North America. This indicates the presence of disease tolerance mechanisms, whereby the bat host limits the harmful effects of WNS, but does not eliminate the presence of the fungus. The ability of Eurasian bats to survive in the presence of WNS is evidence of a natural, evolutionary adaptation, that can most likely be found in immunity genes.

Little Brown Bat infected with white-nose syndrome in Greeley Mine, VT. Photo by Marvin Moriarty, USFWS.

Dr. Jonathan Reichard, WNS National Assistant Coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says the discovery has implications for WNS research in North America.

“The ability of Eurasian bat populations to coexist with WNS suggests adaptive evolution with a possible genetic underpinning for survival,” Reichard says. “We hope that North American bats have the capacity to reach similar equilibrium to survive with the disease.”

Currently, some bats in North America are surviving with WNS while others seem to not contract the disease, but the specific factors leading to their survival are still being investigated.

“If the ability to survive with WNS is from a genetic adaptation that is heritable, North American bats could experience an evolutionary bottleneck and return to a stable or recovering population,” Reichard says. “Work by Dr. Campana and colleagues will help us investigate patterns of resistance and persistence that we are observing both between species and within species in North America. This understanding is critical for focusing our management and research efforts.”  

Click here to read the “White-Nose Syndrome Fungus in a 1918 Bat Specimen from France” research letter.

 

“Bats get caught in your hair – I saw it on TV!”

Today you're hearing from Christina Kocer, the white-nose syndrome coordinator for our Northeast Region. Credit: USFWS

Today you’re hearing from Christina Kocer, the white-nose syndrome coordinator for our Northeast Region. Credit: USFWS

 

Halloween means zombies, witches, vampires, and goblins lurk in the shadows and around every corner. Toothy, carved pumpkins and images of bats silhouetted against a full moon abound.

I admit the idea of encountering a zombie does not sit well with me; however, bats are a different story. Despite their spooky image, bats are far from terrifying, and I can assure you, they really don’t want anything to do with your hair. 

Bats get a bad rap. I recently watched a movie that depicted bats as swarming, voracious creatures with chameleon-like abilities to change colors and hide in plain sight, waiting to attack.

That is terrifying, right? But that is about as far from reality as you can get.

Here's an exotic one for you. The Rodrigues flying fox is the only native mammal from the island of Rodrigues in the Mauritius Island belt near Madagascar. These endangered bats were brought into captivity in the late 1970s when their numbers were less than 100 on the island. Photo courtesy of Organization for Bat Conservation, credit to Steve Gettle. Read more at their site.

Here’s an exotic one for you. The Rodrigues flying fox (which has a wingspan of about 3 feet) is the only native mammal from the island of Rodrigues in the Mauritius Island belt near Madagascar. These endangered bats were brought into captivity in the late 1970s when their numbers were less than 100 on the island. Photo courtesy of Organization for Bat Conservation, credit to Steve Gettle. Read more at their site.

As much as I’d love to see a bat turn from black to purple to green, it just won’t happen. Instead, real bats are likely to use their natural color to just blend in and hide by tucking underneath tree bark or burying themselves in clumps of leaves. And as long as we are clearing the air, bats…

  • will not fly into your hair;
  • will not suck your blood;
  • will not try to eat you alive; and
  • will not chew through your siding, your shutters, or your attic vents.

Bats are not birds, they are not giant insects, and they are not flying rodents. They do not build nests. They will not breed like rabbits and rapidly infest your house. They are not blind. They are not flying, disease ridden vermin searching out unsuspecting humans to infect.

Well, if they aren’t going to attack me in my sleep, build nests in my hair, or try to eat my brains, what the heck are they, and what do they do? Bats are mammals — the only mammals capable of flight. They are covered in soft fur and give birth to live young (pups) which are nursed until they are old enough to venture out on their own.

A tri-colored bat showing signs of white-nose syndrome while hibernating in a Massachusetts cave. Credit: Jon Reichard

A tri-colored bat showing signs of white-nose syndrome while hibernating in a Massachusetts cave. Credit: Jon Reichard

Even though some people think they look like flying mice, they are not closely related to rodents. The bones in their wings are the same bones you have in your own hand. Bats are very diverse, making up about one quarter of all mammals worldwide:

  • They range in size from the world’s smallest mammal, the small, bumblebee-sized bumblebee bat to the large flying foxes, with their 6-foot wingspans.
  • They are pollinators, fruit eaters, seed dispersers, and insect devourers.
  • They can have big ears, small ears or pointy ears;
  • Fancy wrinkly faces or a face that looks remarkably like fox’s;
  • Small, pointed noses or noses that resemble a leaf; and they can have long tails or short tails.

And yes, some bats feed on blood. But don’t worry; even though vampire bats do exist, these very specialized creatures are smaller than your typical cell phone and aren’t the terrifying creatures you may be imagining. Vampire bats live in Central and South America and typically feed on the blood of livestock, and believe it or not, their feeding ritual goes largely unnoticed by their prey. Their saliva has even been used to develop medicines for stroke patients.

Check out this blog post from our Director Dan Ashe, ”The Real Horror Would Be If Bats Disappear”

Closer to home, here in the Northeast, our native bats are small, and most weigh about the same as a few pennies.

Eastern red bats are America's most abundant tree bats, roosting right out in the foliage of deciduous or sometimes evergreen trees. Read more at Bat Conservation International. Credit: Marianne Moore

Eastern red bats are America’s most abundant tree bats, roosting right out in the foliage of deciduous or sometimes evergreen trees. Read more at Bat Conservation International. Credit: Marianne Moore

White-nose syndrome has led to a 99-percent drop in northern long-eared bat populations in the Northeast, leading to our proposal earlier this month to protect them as endangered. Credit: Al Hicks/NYSDEC

White-nose syndrome has led to a 99-percent drop in northern long-eared bat populations in the Northeast, leading to our proposal earlier this month to protect them as endangered. Credit: Al Hicks/NYSDEC

The thousands of insects they eat each night save farmers millions of dollars on insect control and crop damage. That makes bats the most organic form of insect control you can get. Our local bats are agile fliers who are adept at navigating through thick forests in search of their insect prey. They readily devour the pests that eat our food crops and trees, and spread disease.

Those bats that seem to be swooping down to grab a chunk of your hair? Yep, those bats might just be going after insects too — the insects that are going after you.

Bats are long-lived species; some individuals have even been documented to have survived for over 30 years. Quite unlike rodents, most bats are only able to produce one to two pups each year (some species may have up to 4 pups).

Unfortunately, right now bats have something to fear themselves – white-nose syndrome (WNS). WNS is a rapidly spreading fungal disease that has resulted in the catastrophic decline of bats throughout eastern North America.

Over 5.7 million bats have already died, and because bats are long-lived and produce so few young, it will take many generations for populations to recover from this disease.

And, speaking of diseases, the claim that all bats are rabid is yet another fear perpetuated by popular media.

While it’s true that bats can carry rabies, less than 1 percent of wild bats are actually infected with the disease. Even so, don’t go picking up any bats you might find on the ground. That bat may be sick or injured, and it won’t be worth the mandatory rabies shots you’ll have to get if you try to handle it. Call your local wildlife biologist for help.

While there is no reason for us to fear these beneficial critters, I admit, it’s unnerving to have a bat flying circles in your living room. But, if that happens to you, gather your wits, remember why bats are good, and help the little guy escape safely by opening a window so the bat can fly out.

Despite what you may have seen on TV, the world is a better place for everyone with bats in it. 🙂