Little Brown Bat - WNS

Bats on the decline, but why?

Cheyanne Boucher, Conservation Technician

As winter approaches many animals start to look for a comfy home to hibernate in, bats being one of them. Bats are known for being a great pollinator species, but most of all they are known to eat millions of insects each year, mosquitos being a large majority of them. Michigan is home to nine species of bats, two threatened, one endangered, and one of special concern. Unfortunately, many more bat species are on their way to becoming a threated species due to a deadly disease called white-nose syndrome.

In 2007 white-nose syndrome (WNS) was first discovered in caves near Albany, New York. It was then discovered in Northern Michigan in 2014. Currently, four of the nine Michigan species are affected by it, one of them being the endangered Indiana bat. In the US alone it has killed over 5 million bats to date, with some sites having anywhere from 90-100 percent die offs.

Little Brown Bat; close up of nose with fungus, New York, Oct. 2008. Credit: Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental

White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, that grows in cold, dark, and damp places, like caves. Infected bats look like they have white fuzzies all over their nose, hence the name. It primarily affects bats during hibernation causing frequent wake ups, thus using up the bats fat reserves faster which in return cause starvation.

There is currently no definitive treatment for bats infected with WNS, so the best thing humans can do is try to prevent the spread of it. Bats are infected by coming in contact with the fungus. This could be just bat-to-bat contact, or the fungus being on the walls in mines and caves. To help stop the spread, anyone entering a mine or a cave should clean their equipment, clothing, and shoes before and after entering. Hopefully with our help, and a little bit of science, we can help save bats from this devastating disease.

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