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"We've never seen anything like this before with our bats, much less any other mammals, with a very large regional die-off," said Susi von Oettingen of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Bat advocates aren't the only ones worried about the plummeting population. Farmers and others will likely miss the bats later this year since the disappearance of whole populations could mean a much larger number of insects. So far, the disease has been found in Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont, though biologists say it could easily spread to other regions.
On a freefall toward extinction
BATS have been dying by the thousands recently in the Northeastern United States. No one knows why, and it may be months, perhaps years, before the cause is determined.
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Meanwhile, scientists predict that this summer there will be a population explosion of insects, which bats normally eat in large quantities. Greater numbers of beetles and moths could mean severe and costly losses for farmers and timber producers. There could also be bigger swarms of mosquitoes and other biting bugs, which will mean more discomfort for all of us.
A mold that gives hibernating bats fuzzy, white noses turns out to be a previously unknown form of cold-loving fungus. And it may be a cold-blooded killer too.
A novel form of a Geomyces fungus ranks as a possible cause of the deadly white-nose syndrome recently described in New England bats, David Blehert of the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisc., and his colleagues report online October 30 in Science.
White-nose syndrome, described only in the last two years, strikes its victims during their winter hibernation. Bats cuddled along the walls of caves or mines develop a white fuzz on their noses and wings, grow gaunt and then die.
"So essentially these bats are hanging on the cave ceiling almost like a piece of food that you've forgotten about in your refrigerator and for whatever reason now they're getting moldy," microbiologist David Blehert of the U.S. Geological Survey told LiveScience.
A big question remains: Why has this murder mystery only surfaced recently?
Lethal Bat Illness Spreads to Pennsylvania and New Jersey
The puzzling disease that has killed hundreds of thousands of hibernating bats in the Northeast over the past two winters has now been confirmed in two new states. Today, the Pennsylvania Game Commission announced that white-nose syndrome has been documented in Mifflin County, in central Pennsylvania, in a mine occupied by wintering bats. The syndrome has also recently been discovered afflicting hibernating bats in New Jersey.
Said Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity: “The fact that white-nose syndrome is now confirmed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and appears to be spreading to other bat wintering sites in Vermont and elsewhere, should galvanize our wildlife agencies to take all precautionary measures to stop further declines in bat populations. We are looking at the potential extinction of several species of bats in the Northeast within a few years’ time.
White-nose disease confirmed in Pendleton bats
Bats in Pendleton County have white-nose syndrome, a condition associated with the death of more than 100,000 hibernating bats in the Northeast, a laboratory has confirmed.
"We pretty much knew that," state Division of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Craig Stihler said of the syndrome's confirmation in an e-mail message on Monday. "But now the lab confirms it."
West Virginia caves provide some of the nation's most important hibernation sites for endangered Virginia big-eared bats and Indiana bats, as well as for a variety of more abundant bat species.
A cold-loving fungus not previously scientifically described has been linked to white nose syndrome, which was first observed in bat hibernation sites near Albany, N.Y., in 2006. Since then, the syndrome has spread to caves and abandoned mines in Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and West Virginia, and is suspected to be present in New Hampshire.
Dead Bats: Why It Matters To You
A short posting today but wanted to encourage everyone to watch the CBS Evening News with Jeff Glor on Saturday night. We'll be updating our story from last year about the massive die-off of bats in the northeast. The phenomenon has spread from four states to eight, and hundreds of thousands of them are dying from a mysterious condition. The leading cause is the so-called "white nose syndrome" or fungus that appears on their snouts. But researchers aren't sure if that's the cause or a symptom of something larger. And why should we care about bats? They are a critical part of the eco-system in controlling bug and pest populations from moths to mosquitoes. And their decline in numbers will have a serious impact on forests, crops, and eventually food prices. I hope you'll be watching.
While researchers generally agree that the WNS disrupts hibernation, the big picture has not been rigorously tested, in part because lengthy field experiments are difficult given the rapid spread of the disease. This is why scientists at the University of Winnipeg took a different route. Justin Boyles and Craig Willis created a mathematical simulation to test the idea. The model incorporates patterns of arousal, body mass, and the percentage of body fat particular to little brown bats—one of the many species impacted by the fungus.
The results appear in the current issue of the academic journal Frontiers in Ecology. The findings show that over 80 percent of the mortality observed in affected populations can be explained by hibernation disruption.
To help the suffering animals, Boyles and Willis suggest introducing a heat source into caves. They hope this will help the bats stay warm when awake, and minimize the amount of energy lost during periods of arousal. Bats already fly to the warmest parts of their cave when they awake, and the researchers argue the additional heat sources will simply “accentuate” their natural behavior. According to their simulation, mortality rates will drop to as little as 8 percent if localized heat sources are used.
Wooden warming boxes complete with heat coils and insulation are being designed. As bats must be able to lower their body temperatures during hibernation, researchers don’t want to raise the overall temperature inside the cave. Instead, the boxes will provide a momentary escape from the cold.
Of course the idea remains to be tested and, even if it works, saving sick bats means the fungus may be passed more easily. Yet, if current death trends continue, bat populations may collapse below the point of no return. "This isn’t a cure. We’re going for a stopgap," said Boyles. The origins of WNS are still unknown, and no other treatment is currently available.
Fatal Fungus Killing Bats at Alarming Rate
The race is on throughout the northeast. From tagging bats with tiny transmitters to infrared flight analysis and blood testing of their immune systems, researchers are trying to solve one of the most devastating mysteries in the natural world: The huge and rapid die off of the species named little brown bats.
"It's unprecedented in North American wildlife, at least in recorded history," Tom Kunz, a bat biologist at Boston University, told CBS News Science and Technology Correspondent Daniel Sieberg.
They've been surviving for 50 million years, but an entire species of bats may be wiped out in less than a decade.
Originally posted by DontTreadOnMe
I said it about bees, and I'll say it about these poor bats.
With genetically modified foods, one would think the pollen would also be modified.
Who's to know if that modified pollen somehow plays havoc with the bats immune system, and causes this weakness to contaminants that would otherwise not affect them.
The Ebola virus has caused a small number of deadly outbreaks among people and primates in Africa since 1976 that health workers have contained. But because the virus poses continuous threats scientists are concerned that they do not know the virus's hiding place in nature.
Now an international team of scientists have found evidence of symptomless Ebola virus infection in three species of fruit bats, adding to earlier suggestions that they are the likely reservoir.
Working at the International Medical Research Center in Franceville, Gabon, the scientists from France, South Africa and Thailand found fragments of the Ebola virus or evidence of an immune response to it among three species of bats in Gabon and Congo. The bat species are eaten by people in central Africa where Ebola outbreaks have occurred, according to the report in the Dec. 1 issue of the journal Nature.
The new findings show that bats may play a role in transmitting the Ebola virus to primates and people, but "there is still insufficient evidence to conclude that they are the natural reservoir of the disease," said Marian Cheng, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization in Geneva.
The bats may serve as mechanical vectors for spreading the disease, but the new report does not address that issue and further study is required, Ms. Cheng said.
Earlier work dating to 1996 showed that bats could be experimentally infected with Ebola virus, suggesting they might be carriers.
The international team led by Dr. Eric M. Leroy undertook three trapping expeditions to catch and test 1,030 small animals in areas near where infected gorilla and chimpanzee carcasses were found in outbreaks between 2001 and 2003.
The trapping included 679 bats. The scientists found either evidence of the immune globulin g protein specific to Ebola virus in the blood or fragments of the virus in the liver or spleen of three species of bats: Hypsignathus monstrosus, Epomops franqueti and Myonycteris torquata.
Each of the species has broad geographical range including areas where Ebola outbreaks have occurred, Dr. Leroy's team said.