Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bats are the new frogs

The Washington Post reports some devastating news regarding the presence of what has been dubbed "white nose syndrome," a mysterious and deadly fungus responsible for the deaths of approximately one million bats in the Northeast, in Virginia caves and points south. From the article:

Bats, like the disappearing honeybees and frogs, play a critical role in the delicate balance of nature. A single bat will eat 50 to 100 percent of its body weight in insects in a single night. Kunz conservatively calculates that the million bats that have died would have consumed about 694 tons of insects in one year: the equivalent weight of about 11 Abrams M1 tanks.

"You take these bats away, there are a lot of unknowns," Kunz said. "What are these insects going to do that aren't being eaten? They can cause serious damage to crops, gardens and forests, further upsetting both the natural and human-altered ecosystems."

In one study of eight Texas counties, Kunz said, researchers found that if bats disappeared, farmers would have to spend as much as $1.2 million more on pesticides each year. That means more-expensive food, more chemicals in the food supply and the environment, and who knows what other cascading effects on the animals that depend on bats as a source of food or their guano for nutrition. "Eventually, there's a threshold that's going to be reached," Kunz said. "That's not going to recover."

It has yet to be determined how the disease is spreading, whether the bats are infecting one another, recreational cavers are carrying the spores, or some combination of the two. Experts are also trying to determine how the fungus, which is essentially just a skin irritant, leads to death:

The best hypothesis is that the fungus is somehow disturbing the bats, causing them to wake more often than usual. Each time they wake, they use 60 days of the fat reserves they need to make it through the winter. They might be waking up so often that they use up their fat stores and starve to death. That's why infected bats are seen in the daylight, emaciated and searching for food they won't find in the middle of winter.


becky said...

I'm not a fan of bats...but all for saving them so long as they are eating the bugs. I hate summertime bugs!

Deborah said...

You just don't like bats because of that time you Dwight trapped one in a plastic bag over Meredith's head. Not all bats break in to paper companies, you know... ;-)