Tag Archives: bats

White nose syndrome found on Washington state bat

Bad news for bats: Scientists have confirmed a bat with white nose syndrome in the state of Washington, 1,300 miles further west than the previous detection.

On March 11, hikers found the sick bat about 30 miles east of Seattle near North Bend, and took it to Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) for care. The bat died two days later, and had visible symptoms of a skin infection common in bats with WNS. PAWS then submitted the bat for testing to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, which confirmed through fungal culture, molecular and pathology analyses that it had WNS.

I hate to express such a thought, but I can’t help wonder about the legitimacy of this detection. It is so far west and so far from the nearest other bat with white nose syndrome I cannot understand how this bat came to be infected, naturally. In order for this discovery to be confirmed they are going to have to detect it again, and more than once, on a number of bats. Otherwise, it will remain suspect and a possible false positive.

The worst part of this is that the government is surely going to begin instituting draconian measures to protect the bats in Washington, as well as across the entire western United States, even before this detection is confirmed. Having this single detection will make it much easier for government officials to ban humans from many more places, even though white nose syndrome is nowhere close.

Counting bats on a Saturday evening

While most normal people spend their Saturday evenings going out to dinner followed by either a movie or a show, I spent this past Saturday doing something entirely different: counting bats!

There is a local cave here in the Tucson area that is a maternity colony for one species of bats. During the summer the females gather here to gossip and then give birth to their babies, after which they move on until next year. Because of a desire to help these bats, a few years ago the managers of the cave decided to close it during the summer months. This way humans wouldn’t be there to disturb the mothers during their labor.

The managers also decided to do regular bat counts of the bats leaving the cave each evening to feed, in order to get an estimate of the population size. To everyone’s delight they found the numbers rising year-to-year, following the summer closure. The total population of bats isn’t actually going up, but it appears that bats are finding this cave to be a good place to give birth, so more and more of them are making it their summer residence.

In the end the situation will contribute to an actual rise in population, as providing the maternity colony a safe haven will allow for more successful births and more babies.

In the past three years the bat count numbers over each summer would exhibit a typical bell curve, going up and then declining as the summer progressed, with the largest numbers ranging between 75 to 150 each night. However, last year there was one evening in which no bats left the cave. The bat biologist leading the bat count, Sandy Wolf, has theorized that this might be because the mothers are synchronizing their labor so that everyone gives birth at the same time and, because of that, on that night no one exits for feeding.. She knows that some species do this, but for this particular species such behavior has never been documented.

Anyway, she decided to find out. This has required that someone be at the entrance counting the bats at least every other evening. (In past years the counts were only done about once a week.) This has required more help, and thus Sandy has called for volunteers to do the work.

And that is how I and fellow caver Jerry Isaman ended up hiking up the hill to the cave with digital camera, infrared lights, and monitor this past Saturday.

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Data now suggests that the bats are showing signs of recovery in the first caves hit by white nose syndrome in New York.

Good news: Data now suggests that the bats are showing signs of recovery in the first caves hit by white nose syndrome in New York. More here. Plus here’s a link describing some of the research being done on this subject.

Note that the death toll listed in these stories is nothing more than an arbitrary exaggeration by government officials. The National Speleological Society estimates that the numbers are probably far less, and based on my own caving experience, I agree.

White nose syndrome has been found in bats in Europe

White nose syndrome, the fungus that has been killing bats in the northeast United States these past five years, has now been definitively found on bats in Europe.

With this information, scientists now know that it is the differences between North American and European bats that can explain why European bat colonies can survive the fungus while North American bats cannot. Furthermore, this information should show us how future North American bats will adapt to the fungus.

For as yet unexplained reasons, scientists have been finding isolated colonies of little brown bats — once the most common bat species in the region and the hardest hit by white nose syndrome — surviving and healthy.

Hope for North America’s bats: For as yet unexplained reasons, scientists have been finding isolated colonies of little brown bats — once the most common bat species in the region and the hardest hit by white nose syndrome — surviving and healthy.

In Vermont, biologists have identified 15 colonies in the western part of the state where the numbers of little brown bats, while still far fewer than before white nose appeared, are surviving, said Vermont Fish and Wildlife Biologist Scott Darling. “We visited each and every one of those colonies and to some degree, much to our surprise, they seem to be healthy,” Darling said. “It begged the question, ‘Why are you the lucky ones?'”

The cause of white nose, the killer of bats

Scientists today confirmed that the fungus, Geomyces destructans, causes white nose syndrome, the deadly killer that has been wiping out cave-hibernating bats throughout the eastern United States.

A science team led by David Blehert of the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin captured healthy little brown bats and infected them with the fungus while they were in hibernation, some by direct application and others by putting them in contact with already infected bats. After 102 days, all of the first group had developed white nose on their muzzles and wings, while 16 of 18 of the second group had become infected as well.
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U.S. Forest Service closes more caves

An excellent editorial on the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to shutter more caves. Key quote:

The closures . . . seem like an overreaching government solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. The Forest Service could certainly be spending its time in more constructive ways – like taking public comment on the “emergency” closures, which are set to start May 1.

White nose found in North Caroina

The fungus that has been killing cave hibernating bats throughout the eastern United States has now been found in North Carolina.

In a related note, the National Speleological Society has sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, expressing its concern over what many cavers believe has been the government’s indiscriminate cave closure policies in response to the white nose fungus. Key quote:

Our members have been extremely patient and collaborative throughout the entire [white nose syndrome] situation, but the frustration and discontent has been growing. We are hearing more and more from across the country that cavers do not want to participate in collaborative efforts – in much part due to management decisions by federal and state agencies that are perceived by knowledgeable and conservation-minded cavers to be over-reactive, based on sometimes slim science, speculation and political pressure, and insensitive to broader science and conservation issues. That result would not be beneficial to anyone.

White nose confirmed on Indiana bats

White nose syndrome, a fungus that is linked to the death of approximately a million bats throughout the eastern United States, has now been confirmed on two Indiana bats. You can read the actual Indiana Department of Natural Resources press release here. [pdf]

The bats are thus finally spreading the fungus north, as has been expected.

Bat fungus more deadly that first thought

Bat researchers have concluded that the fungus seen on the dying bats in the northeast United States these past four years is far more deadly than any fungus previously studied, and is increasingly believed to be the primary cause of the bat deaths. Key quote:

“This fungus is amazingly destructive — it digests, erodes, and invades the skin — particularly the wings — of hibernating bats,” said Meteyer. “The ability of this fungus to invade bats’ wing skin is unlike that of any known skin fungal pathogen in land mammals.”

Killing bats to save them!

In a wonderful example of government stupidity, environmental officials in Wisconsin want to try to “exclude” bats from caves in order to prevent the spread of white nose syndrome.

Some quick background: White nose syndrome appeared in upstate New York about four years ago, killing about 90 percent of the bats affected. It has since spread down the east coast following bat migration patterns as they travel during the summer months. (While human activity might spread the syndrome as well, the evidence all points to the bats as the primary vector.) A newly discovered fungus that is seen on all affected bats, for which the syndrome is named, is the prime suspect for killing them, as it disturbs them during hibernation, causing them to wake more frequently, burn up their reserves,and thus starve to death.

Wisconsin officials, in their infinte wisdom, have decide that the way they will save the bats of their state will be to declare the fungus an invasive specie. They will then be empowered to do anything they can to prevent its spread. And how will they do this? By preventing bats from entering caves and bringing the fungus with them.

Let me say that again: Wisconsin environment officials want to “exclude bats from caves” in order to save them. The result of course will be a biological genocide, since without access to caves during the cold hibernation period the bats will surely die.

If you don’t believe me, see this press release. To quote:

The third proposed rule adds provisions to NR 40.04 and 40.07 relating to early detection and prevention of the spread of the disease due to human activities, including the decontamination of clothes and equipment that have been used in mines or caves, and limited access of bats or people to caves or mines. [emphasis mine]

If you still don’t believe me, read the state’s actual proposed management plan [pdf]. To quote page 5:

Under the proposed rules, the department may ask any person who owns, controls, or manages property here a cave or mine may be present to install and properly maintain physical barriers to limit access to the cave or mine by either individuals or bats, in accordance with a plan approved by the department. The department is seeking funding to assist with the installation of barriers, and therefore cost to those parties who install such barriers should be negligible. Additionally, commercial caves will have the option to exclude bats from their cave(s) with the help of the department, allowing them to remain open for tourism, and resulting in no loss of tourism dollars. [emphasis mine]

Moreover, this plan will give these officials the power to enter private property without the landowners’ permission.

Cavers have been trying to explain to the Wisconsin officials that this entire approach is madness. So far, these pleas have had very little effect. You can see their efforts here.

This whole story might be one of the best examples of why it is always bad idea to concentrate a lot of power in the hands of government. Better to spread the power around among a lot of private landowners, as then you also spread the stupidity around as well, and reduce the chances that the only approach taken is the worse approach.

Closing caves for the convenience and power of the government

A variety of federal government agencies are moving aggressively to shut down human access to all American caves, including those on private property. Key quote:

In Wisconsin, where white nose syndrome has not yet appeared, wildlife managers want to get a jump on the disease by declaring G. destructans [the fungus associated with the syndrome] an invasive species, and declaring four species of bats threatened. Those designations would give wildlife agencies access to new sources of funds. They would also “give police power to the agencies to go onto private land to prevent damage to these newly named threatened species,” said [Peter] Youngbaer, [white nose syndrome liaison for the National Speleological Society]. “We fear that private landowners will be fearful of allowing even inadvertent access to caves, and thus move to seal caves shut. They’ll be causing more damage to the bats that they’re ostensibly trying to protect.” [emphasis mine]

As a caver, I not only have a strong personal interest in this story, I know a lot about bats and caves from personal experience. As a science writer who has also written about white nose syndrome for Science, I am also very familiar with the present state of the science. Based on this background, I find the actions of these government officials unconscionable. As one commenter to this article very correctly noted:

“There is currently *no* evidence that humans have spread this disease, but mountains of evidence for bat-to-bat transmission. The possibility does exist that humans *could* spread it, but even at its worst a human vector would be quite statistically insignificant in comparison to the bat-to-bat transmission.

In other words, closing all caves to human access can accomplish no good, and a great deal of harm. Yet, this is exactly what these government officials and environmental bureaucrats wish to do.

Back in March 2008, soon after white nose syndrome was discovered, I wrote the following:

I am beginning to believe strongly that the situation has worrisome political overtones linked to the unstated desire of some people to limit access to caves. . . . Some people are distorting the situation for their own purposes, either consciously or unconsciously. . . . Some of those people might have an agenda (closing caves to cavers) that is entirely irrelevant to the issue of white nose.

The article above only serves to confirm my opinions from 2008. The government officials who are demanding the indiscriminate closure of caves and the unfettered control over caves on private property are not really interested in protecting or saving the bats. In fact, their actions might actually do great harm to the bats, as the closures, the regulatory restrictions, and the threat to private property will antagonize both cavers and landowners, thus guaranteeing their unwillingness to cooperate with scientists.

So what do these government officials want? As far as I can tell, what they really want is power. And they are using white nose syndrome as a hammer to gain it.

Sadly, I fear that they are going to succeed. Today’s environmental laws are rigged to their advantage. The press is generally on their side. And the opposition to this power grab is diffuse and weak.

Once again, we see the death of freedom. And it dies, not by a single devastating blow, but by the death of a thousand cuts.

Bat extinctions

An article today in Science describes how scientists now believe that white nose syndrome is probably going to cause the extinction of the little brown myotis bat. Key quote from the press release:

The researchers determined that there is a 99 percent chance of regional extinction of little brown myotis within the next 20 years if mortality and spread of the disease continue unabated. They note that several other bat species may also face a similar risk.