Policy: Bracing for a Blow
Wildlife: Going to Bat for Bats
Interview: Bye-bye, Starlings
Marine Life: Trees of Life
Green Guru: E-Readers
The 17-step solution; monkey love; get a goat, save a turtle.
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Going to Bat for Bats
The first victims died in an upstate New York cave during the winter of 2006. Biologists found hundreds of little brown bat corpses with a mysterious white fluff on their noses. Since then white-nose syndrome (WNS) has spread to 14 states and killed a million bats from six species, all insectivores that help keep pests in check. “This massive die-off is unprecedented,” says Boston University ecologist Thomas Kunz. Researchers don’t know if the fungus itself is lethal, though there’s evidence that it weakens bats’ immune systems. It might also irritate their skin, waking them from their winter slumber, or torpor. While healthy bats awaken once every two to three weeks for an hour or two, bats with WNS arouse about every four to five days. “That arousal really burns up fat,” says Kunz, “so bats with the fungus run out of fat, which is deadly.” Though WNS has decimated some entire colonies, others appear to have stabilized at about a third of their population, possibly because some animals are naturally resistant to the fungus. They still face risks, namely not being able to survive and reproduce because they spend all their energy keeping warm. To give them a fighting chance, in places with existing colonies Kunz and colleagues are installing bat houses, whose small crevices keep bats warmer than airy barns or caves. “[Bat houses] provide one of the best opportunities for survivors to be reproductively successful, even in a smaller colony.” (You can help, too. Click here.)—Alisa Opar
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