Thursday, April 1, 2010

A killer in the bat cave

In 2006, scientists began tracking a mysterious white fungus that was affecting bats and rapidly reducing bat populations in the U.S. In 2009, the fungus was identified by researchers at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, WI, and the fungus's corresponding disease was given a name: white nose syndrome. As the WNS epidemic spreads (a WNS-related bat die off was recently confirmed in Canada), there is growing concern among wildlife health experts about the future of bat species.

By Shaoni Bhattacharya
In New Scientist

CORPSE upon corpse they lie, a carpet of emaciated, fungus-ridden carcasses. Where once healthy animals hung in slumber from the cave roof, now there is a mass grave on the floor. It is a scene that is repeated throughout the eastern US, from Vermont to West Virginia. America's bats are in crisis, under threat from a mysterious killer.

The first sign that something was up emerged in February 2006, when a caver photographed hibernating bats with white muzzles at Howe's Cave in Albany, New York state. Soon afterwards bats were observed behaving strangely - waking from hibernation early and in a state of serious starvation. Some even ventured out of their roosts during daylight to search for food. Inside the caverns, the floors were littered with bodies, most with the characteristic fuzzy white mould growing on their noses, ears and wings. So far, about a million bats have succumbed to this fate, an affliction dubbed white nose syndrome (WNS).

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