"White nose syndrome" wiping out bats in the Northeast US

Daniel Strohl says:
200804081238
Photo by Al Hicks, New York Dept. of Environmental Conservation
A spelunker coworker of mine mentioned this yesterday and I haven't seen much mention of it in mainstream news media. Some mystery syndrome is causing several species of bats in a four-state area around Albany, NY, and Pittsfield, MA, to die off at incredible rates. We just watched a bat suffering from this white-nose syndrome as we were leaving work yesterday, in the daylight, flying very erratically and not chasing any insects for food.

"He's just burning off his fat storage and will die in an hour," my co-worker said. Apparently, by the end of this summer, every single bat from the afflicted species will be dead, which means billions of mosquitos and crop-eating insects will soon cause havoc in the area. And nobody seems to know why or how this disease/organism is spreading, nor do they know much about bat colonies in this area to be able to determine what's normal and what's abnormal for these species.

Link | More at the Hartford Courant's website

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  1. I read about this in NYtimes. Looks like the end for several species of bat. I certainly hope they come up with some ideas soon as this could help malaria spread even faster in the U.S..
    (not to mention the fun children would miss by tossing socks with tennis balls trying to “catch” a bat)

  2. The Appalachian Trail goes right through that area of MA/CT, and is notorious for mosquito problems when many of the Northbound thru-hikers hit that section of the trail in the summer(the trail winds through some very swampy areas for a good many miles near the Housatonic). I recall a few years ago many thru-hikers actually took a few weeks off or “flip-flopped” up to ME rather than deal with the mosquitoes.

    They’re gonna miss those bats for sure.

  3. This is seriously bad. Bats don’t reproduce very fast, so even if they stop dying, it will be a long time before their population bounces back. In the meantime, the insects they normally feed on will be destroying our crops and spreading disease.

  4. I’ve studied this for some time… actually it is a huge problem.

    Bees are dying off, Bats are in trouble, and crops will be failing very soon.

    This is not doom and gloom speculation, but pure science.

    The problem, most likely,is not in the bats, its in the food chain. The disease is harking back to an earlier issue on the food line, this is almost certain. What isn’t certain is where.

    With the bees, and hive collapse, there is a certain marker present in fallen hives (supposedly). However, that is not determined to be causal… only present in the populous.

    Amazing how dust mites attacked the bees and some bizarre fungus is on the bats. Indication – folks – that potentially, something very far down the food chain is attacking the hosts above them.

    With pests not kept in check, US importing grain for the first time in its history, and some idiot in government pushing ethanol (never put your food supply in competition with fuel supply), this is
    really all the bad news we need right now.

    Lets hope this remains isolated to NE and runs a quick course, so it doesn’t affect the migration routes (yes, some bats migrate)

    Good luck to us all.

    James B.

  5. Oh, this is horrible. I love bats so much and they are so essential to the ecosystem as a whole. I can’t imagine a muggy summer without fleets of bats at dusk picking off the bugs.

  6. nor do they know much about bat colonies in this area

    New England has one of the highest concentrations of institutions of higher learning in the world. Are they all journalism majors?

  7. This article is rather behind the times. I can’t find the link now, but I remember reading almost a month ago that a pair of bats had been found that were immune to white nose syndrome.

    Evolution is a wonderful thing.

  8. JGB
    “something very far down the food chain is attacking the hosts above them.”

    Halocarbons are everywhere. But that’s ok because industry can always bribe congress into looking the other way. After all, if you pass a law that says a substance is safe then it IS safe. That’s called reality, right? Right?

  9. About a year ago there was a report that bats migrating up from mexico and through the southwest were in danger because development is altering the food supply along their migration route. I wonder if they’ve evolved a response to this.

  10. The most well known Halocarbon is Dioxin, one of the most toxic substances known to man. There are plenty of others used in solvents, pesticides and so on. Trichloroethylene is extremely pervasive and carcinogenic.

    Every living thing on Earth has some halocarbon in some form, PCBs, Dioxins, DDT, PFOAs, whatever, in their tissues.

    “We have found on the bats we’ve examined so far, for instance, significant amounts of parasites.”

    Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

    “commercial beekeepers overwhelmingly believed that invertebrate pests (Varroa mites, honey bee tracheal mites, and/or small hive beetles) were the leading cause of colony mortality.”

    “A survey of beekeepers early in 2007 indicates that most hobbyist beekeepers believed that starvation was the leading cause of death in their colonies”

    Just like the bats.

    We spread poisons on the earth and then wonder why living things die.

  11. From an e-mail i got a couple months ago from some upstate NY college friends who spend a lot of time in caves. seems the bats in CNY are having a bad winter:

    Bat deaths tied to warm temperatures
    Expert says unseasonable weather waking animals up
    Wednesday, February 6, 2008
    By Edward Munger Jr. (Contact)
    Gazette Reporter
    < >
    Photographer: Ana Zangroniz
    New York State Wildlife Pathologist Ward Stone shows a dehydrated baby brown bat, which will be used in a study to try to determine what is infecting area bats.

    CAPITAL REGION — Warmer-than-normal temperatures may be linked to the deaths of thousands of local bats, state wildlife pathologist Ward Stone said Tuesday.

    Federal and state officials last week asked cavers to stay out of caves known to house bats while an investigation into the die-off ensued.

    Between 8,000 and 11,000 bats were found dead where they hibernate near Albany last year, and wildlife officials last month found bats dead or dying in a Schoharie County cave and in a cave in Vermont.

    A white fungus, called fusarium, surrounded the noses of some of the bats, both living and dead, and officials feared the fungus might have played some role in the deaths.

    Stone on Tuesday said samples of the fungus were sent to a federal lab, but for the most part, the fungus does not appear to be killing the bats.

    Stone said he has received calls about bats flying around this week when they would typically be hibernating.
    The unseasonable temperatures might be waking them up, he said.
    “The bats are starving. They have burned up their energy supplies and they are ready to go get something to eat, I think. But there’s little to nothing available because it’s winter.”

    Adding to the bats’ plight is a dwindling food staple. One of their primary food sources, moths, are declining in numbers in the Capital Region, Stone said.

    State entomologist Timothy McCabe, curator of entomology at the New York State Museum, said he’s noticed a reduction in some bug species favored by bats.

    “I think one of the primary, if not the main, source of food for bats is moths. Since about 1986, I’ve seen a marked decline in moths in our part of New York state,” McCabe said.

    McCabe said a colleague who works in New Jersey has not seen a similar trend, nor has he seen a decline of moths in the Adirondacks.

    “I don’t know how widespread the phenomena is, but there’s been a dramatic reduction in the Capital District area,” McCabe said.

    McCabe said he’s seen theories written in scientific journals that point to parasites in caterpillars causing reduction in their numbers.

    Light pollution, which McCabe attributes to increased streetlights and other lights as residential and other development has steadily grown in the Capital Region, could also be throwing off the moths’ rhythm, making them think it’s daytime instead of nighttime, when they’re usually out roaming.

    Meanwhile, Stone said, studies are ongoing to determine whether the fungus or any other contaminants are contributing to the death of the bats.

    He said it is possible that factors such as changes in cave environments, also due to weather, could be promoting the growth of the white fungus.

    “Strange weather has occurred in the last two years … it weakened [the bats] and put them into a starvation state. That has created this situation,” Stone theorized.

    Stone said more study, which is sensitive because of the possibility that bats can carry rabies, needs to be done before a definitive answer can be established.

    “We have to make sure we have everything right, plus look at the virus, the bacteria and toxic substances and think about rabies continuously,” Stone said.

    State Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Yancey Roy said Tuesday he had not received any update on the investigation into the bat deaths.

  12. strange stars and wonders indeed…

    On the other hand, the biome is always flexing, dimpling, bubbling and rippling.

    Species falter, conditions improve, survivors thrive.

    I’ll worry when ALL species show stress.

    Not to say WE might not survive, but Life will go on.

  13. I love Peter’s rants:

    Earth Hour
    “Ninety percent of the world’s charismatic megafauna is gone. Hormone disrupters are turning the fish off Lakeshore into hermaphrodites, if the tumors don’t get them first. The Arctic is heading for ice-free status by 2030, the Wilkins Ice Shelf is a measly six kilometers away from disintegration, air pollution in this miserable dick-ass excuse for a country alone helps kill 16,000 people a year.”

    You’ve got to address the root of the problem: human psychology. We evolved in the moment, we evolved to recognize imminent and proximate threats: pestilence, predators, an alpha male coming at us with murder in his eyes. …we never evolved to internalize graphs and columns of statistics. They may be real; they just don’t feel that way.

    So, you want to effect real change? You’ve got to make the threat matter to the ones who matter. You have to take the shit into their hallways until even they can smell it.

    This is what you’d have to do: hunt down the Harpers and the Gordons and the Martins, the Roves and Cheneys, the Harrises and the Kleins and Bairds. … Hunt down every pundit and commentator who, after years ridiculing the signposts, now shrugs and says Oh, well, I guess we fucked up the planet after all. Too late to fix it now, let’s just adapt and make sure that economic growth doesn’t drop below five percent… Take every family member who sided with any of them (most have); explain to them all the proximate nature of threat-perception in the human animal, and that you’re going to motivate them only way you can.

    Then kill half of them. Give the other half a year to fix things. Hold back their families in, as the publishers say, “reasonable amounts against returns”.

    That’s probably what it would take to get these people to give a shit.

    Sounds like a plan to me.

  14. What does it say about me that the first thing I thought about when I read the headline was cocaine?

  15. @noen and takuan

    9 times out of 10, yinz make the comment threads worth reading… huzzah for you.

  16. aye, but e’en the fledermaus must dree his weird,
    stand a moment wi me, here in the wind, alone…..
    ye see that? …. t’is the Void……

  17. As other comments have stated, this is an old story in regards to New York State. The scary thing is that it’s spread to the largest bat cave in Vermont, a former copper mine that’s home to tens of thousands of bats. Located in Strafford, it’s on the eastern side of the state, almost in NH. This has spread — big time. Our local paper had the local angle on it this past weekend:

    http://www.vnews.com/04072008/4787270.htm

    If researchers were finding it late last year in NY and now it’s in eastern VT, this is very bad news.

  18. Environmental disaster stories are so much like psychic predictions. In this thread there has been much panic and even a claim that crops will start failing “soon”. How delightfully, unscientifically vague.

    I’m pretty familiar with SI units, and even a little familiar with the funny system the US uses, but I’m not sure how many days, weeks, months, years or decades are in a “soon”.

    In the meantime, coral reefs may be recovering, although no one ever figured out why they have been declining. The Great Lakes, which in the ’60’s and ’70’s were going to be dead “soon” have recovered faster than anyone believed possible. Almost like nature behaves non-linearly.

    Are there matters of concern? Yes. Should we all be working to decrease our environmental footprint? Yes. Should we be supporting political changes to ensure that environmental costs are as fully internalized as possible, including changes to tax structures where necessary? Absolutely. Are fear-mongering conservatives going to continue to seize on every change and claim it proves that everything they believe is absolutely correct and everyone who disagrees with them is not just mistaken but evil? Unfortunately, probably yes.

    The only difference between fear-mongering pseudo-environmentalists and fear-mongering pseudo-securitists is the class of changes that scare them. Both groups are profoundly conservative. One sees all environmental change as terrible, and the other all demographic and social change as terrible.

    But kindly old Mother Nature works by killing things off in droves, and it will take a while before humans are able to compete with the mass extinctions of the past. In fact, it is very unlikely we ever will, as kindly old Mother Nature will shuffle us off well before we get the chance. Personally, I’d like that not to happen. But I’m reasonably certain that fear-mongering and hysterical responses won’t increase our chances of survival. Only scientific understanding and taking personal responsibility for our own environmental footprint will.

  19. NOEN, not sure if:

    “…After all, if you pass a law that says a substance is safe then it IS safe. That’s called reality, right? Right?…”

    Is meant to be a trolling statement or agreement.

    You are absolutely correct. My point, however, is that the bats don’t need to be the ones “diseased” for lack of a better term, nor do the insects they eat.

    A disruption MUCH, and I mean MUCH further down the food chain may be the real culprit.

    While I am an environmentalist and a realist, I am a scientist first. Since there is NO reliable control group that points to the “tipping point” prior to this incident, it is a mad dash.

    To hypothesize is phenomenal. Have at it. What we need, however, is a mad-dash approach attacking several seemingly unrelated food chains at once. It is better to study the entire chains of each individual chain and to not necessarily call it a “bat disease”.

    That was my point.

    Again, not certain if you and I agree or you were bating, just wanted to add a point that is missing from most of the news-reporting community, including blogs.

    I am certain there are a few entomologists out there that are talking with CDC, as well as scientists with a broad base knowledge of bacteria, fungi, etc. Lets hope.

    Good luck to us all.

    JGB

  20. Tom makes good points but I feel I have to point out one simple fact: nature and human society are two different things.

    To equate political conservatism with environmental conservatism might be rhetorically staisfying, but is nonetheless facile.

    Political conservatism seeks to preserve social constructs, representing them as unchanging natural laws like gravity, when they are in fact arbitrary and manmade.

    Environmental conservatism seeks to limit our tampering with a natural order, which, unlike society, is the end product of billions of years of evolution. We tamper with it at our peril.

    Environmental conservationists are as prone to panicking as anyone else. Feel free to take them to task when they do. But their basic premise is the same as yours, Tom. It goes like this: let nature take its course.

  21. JGB – no, not trolling, just bitter sarcasm.

    I don’t know Tom, other people do not seem to share your optimism. Peter Watts does know a thing or two and his sense of growing alarm, no, strike that, his sense of despair is shared by many.

    It’s true that “hysterical responses won’t increase our chances of survival” but it is a good start when there is an ocean liner bearing down on your little life raft. Your “everything is gonna be just fine if we wait it out” sort of glosses over the millions dying part.

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