North American Bat Death Toll Exceeds 5.5 Million

By Beacon Staff

There was a news story circulating around the Internet recently that caught my attention and it presents a startling piece of information.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists estimate that at least 5.7 million to 6.7 million bats have now died from white-nose syndrome, the agency announced on Jan. 17.

White-nose syndrome (WNS) is decimating bat populations across eastern North America, with mortality rates reaching up to 100 percent at many sites. First documented in New York in 2006, the disease has spread quickly into 16 states and four Canadian provinces.

Biologists expect the disease to continue to spread, and based off the current trend the disease appears to be spreading west, with recent discoveries in Oklahoma. Fortunately WNS has not been found in Montana yet, an agency spokesperson told me on Tuesday.

Here’s more from the agency’s release:

Bats with WNS exhibit unusual behavior during cold winter months, including flying outside during the day and clustering near the entrances of caves and mines where they hibernate. Bats have been found sick and dying in unprecedented numbers near these hibernacula.

“This startling new information illustrates the severity of the threat that white-nose syndrome poses for bats, as well as the scope of the problem facing our nation. Bats provide tremendous value to the U.S. economy as natural pest control for American farms and forests every year, while playing an essential role in helping to control insects that can spread disease to people,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe.

Where is it now? White-nose syndrome has continued to spread rapidly. At the end of the 2010-2011 hibernating season, bats with WNS were confirmed in 16 states and four Canadian provinces: Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, New Brunswick, Canada, Nova Scotia, Canada, Ontario, Canada, Quebec, Canada

The fungus that causes WNS, Geomyces destructans, has been confirmed in three additional states: Delaware, Missouri, Oklahoma

For more information, visit http://www.fws.gov/WhiteNoseSyndrome/