December 31, 2013 at 4:12 am #1864MikeKeymaster
White nose epidemic in bats
The state’s leading bat biologist updated area residents Tuesday on white-nose syndrome, a mysterious disease that is devastating bat populations in the Northeast and beyond, and his report was grim. Scott Darling, a bat biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, has been on the case since bats, exhibiting the white fungus for which the affliction was named, were first found in Vermont in Morris Cave in Danby on Jan. 21, 2008.
Since, signs of the syndrome have appeared all over Vermont, including the Aeolus Cave in Dorset, the largest hibernation site for bats in New England, and Darling, along with his research, has traveled the state trying to spread the word. On Tuesday, he told a crowd of about 50 at Hildene that things have gotten worse, not better, over the past year. “This week, there’s a little less skip in my step,” he said, “a little less hope.” On March 16, scientists confirmed that the disease, first found in New York two years ago and, last year, in Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut, has spread to New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia and possibly Virginia. “Its spread is rapid,” Darling said, especially since bats travel far during the summer months, interacting with a large number of others.
Bats usually stop hibernating in mid-April, but this year and last, Vermont residents have spotted bats much earlier, many dead or dying on the landscape. Darling said the scene in “Guano Hall,” a section near the entrance of Aeolus Cave, has been disturbing. “This year, more so than last … the cave floor of ‘Guano Hall’ is littered with dead bats,” he said. Bats affected tend to hibernate in colder areas of caves, closer to the entrance. Darling estimated there were between 10,000 and 20,000 dead bats in Guano Hall on his most recent visit, which does not include the vast number of bats that have died outside the cave, possibly in search of food. “It’s very difficult for people who work with bats,” he said.
Scientists believe a skin infection might be disrupting bat hibernation and, in turn, depleting their fat reserves. The affliction has shown to have about a 90 percent mortality rate, and roughly 400,000 bats in Vermont are thought to be affected. In October, experts identified a new species of fungus, Geomyces genus, that might be linked to the syndrome. However, there is still no way to stop it from spreading and no one has figured out a cause. Darling said resident reports of winter bat sightings on http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com were helpful, but some extensive funding is also needed. “Bats couldn’t have picked a worse time to go out looking for money to help their cause,” he said.
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