Published Date: 2008-02-19 23:50:00
Subject: PRO/AH/EDR> White-nose syndrome, bats - USA: (Northeast)
Archive Number: 20080219.0675
WHITE-NOSE SYNDROME, BATS - USA: (NORTHEAST)
A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases
Date: Mon 18 Feb 2008
Source: Burlington Free Press [edited]
Mysterious bat disease confirmed in Dorset cave
A new mysterious and deadly illness of bats has struck New England's
largest bat cave, a cavern in a Dorset mountain where 23 000 bats
spend the winter, a state wildlife biologist confirmed today [18 Feb
2008]. Scott Darling saw the signs as he approached Aeolus cave [also
known as Dorset Bat Cave] Thursday [14 Feb 2008]. Carcasses of the
tiny creatures lay in the snow. More bats flitted around the mouth of
the cave, unnatural behavior for a frigid February day. "It was as
though they were running out of energy and their last effort was to
go outside in search of food," Darling, a biologist with the Vermont
Fish and Wildlife Department, said today.
"White-nose syndrome," which killed as many as 11 000 bats in caves
around Albany, New York, last winter [2006-07], also was identified
for the 1st time in a Massachusetts cave last week. In New York, the
illness has been confirmed at 9 caves and is suspected at 2 more.
Aeolus is the 2nd Vermont bat hibernaculum, or overwintering site,
afflicted by white-nose syndrome.
Biologists do not yet understand what is killing the creatures --
only that they have never seen this before. The dead bats are
emaciated, as though starving. A white fungus furs their noses.
Autopsies show lung congestion, as though they had pneumonia.
Whatever the cause, it kills with deadly efficiency. Bat populations
have plummeted more than 90 percent in the 2 New York caves where the
syndrome was first identified last winter. The illness is so new,
biologists have not yet mapped its geographic spread, nor determined
what its effect might be on bat populations in the Northeast. "It is
obviously a grave concern," Darling said. "Bats are long-lived
animals with low reproductive rates, so any mortality like that will
take years and years to rebound from."
Among the bats killed by the illness is the tiny Indiana bat [_Myotis
sodalis_], an animal on both the federal and Vermont lists of
endangered species. Darling found no dead Indiana bats in Aeolus
cave, though small numbers winter there. Most of the victims were
northern long-eared bats [_M. keenii septentrionalis_] or little
brown bats [_M. lucifugus_].
Though bats send a shiver down many human spines, they consume
millions of insects as they flit through the air on summer nights and
play an important role in controlling pests that afflict crops and
Inside Aeolus cave last week [11-17 Feb 2008], Darling and cave
enthusiast Peter Youngbaer found more dead bats and about 2000 bats
flying around or hanging from walls near the entrance, also unnatural
behavior. Usually the hibernating bats stay deep in the cave where
temperatures are colder and vary little. "They were flying out of the
cave, landing on the snow, landing on us -- they shouldn't be doing
that in mid-winter," Youngbaer said. Darling said he expects to
return as spring approaches, to try to determine how many bats died
during the winter.
While pathologists try to determine what is killing the bats, 3
states - New York, Vermont, and New Jersey -- have asked people to
stay out of bat caves this winter. The Northeast Cave Conservancy has
closed the 9 caves it owns in New York. At least one cave owner as
far away as West Virginia has also closed her cave to the public.
Meanwhile, the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental
advocacy group, petitioned the United States government today [18 Feb
2008] to take additional steps to protect endangered species of bats.
In petitions to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park
Service, the Federal Highway Administration, the Army Corps of
Engineers, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, the center asks the agencies to:
- Immediately close caves and mines on federal land where 5 bat
species hibernate in significant numbers.
- Stop activities within its control that might adversely affect the
bats or their summer habitat.
- Allocate money for research on white-nose syndrome.
"Until the extent of deaths is known, all known agency actions that
are likely to adversely affect the Gray bat, Indiana bat, Ozark
big-eared bat, and Virginia big-eared bat must cease and desist," the
Mollie Matteson, of the center's Northeast office in Richmond, said a
halt to logging, road-building, and other projects in prime bat
habitat is necessary until white-nose syndrome is better understood.
"We don't know how it is spreading. Bats are very vulnerable because
they are colonial in winter -- they have very few hibernacula, so
this could be a very severe blow to the population as a whole," she
said. Federal officials could not be reached for comment today
because of the Presidents Day holiday.
In Vermont, Darling, the state wildlife biologist, said a discussion
of new steps to protect the bats "will have to happen" soon. "We are
beginning to ask ourselves how does this affect our summer research
and habitat issues," he said.
[Byline: Candace Page]
[The fungus involved in white -nose syndrome has been identified as
belonging to the genus _Fusarium_, usually associated with plants.
The fungal growth may be an opportunistic infection rather than the
actual cause of the condition. A loss of winter fat stores,
pneumonia, and the disruption of hibernation and feeding cycles
caused by warm and variable winter weather have all been suggested as
causes or contributing factors.
(<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_nose_syndrome>.) There are
plenty of reports of bat die-offs this winter ascribed to this
disease but a clarification of the disease itself would be
appreciated from those members with knowledge of it.
Since the 1930s, wintering populations of _Myotis sodalis_ (Indiana
bat) have dramatically declined; wintering populations of _M.
lucifugus_ [little brown bat] have increased; and wintering
populations of all other Vermont species (_M. leibii_ [small-footed
bat], _M. septentrionalis_ [northern long-eared bat], _Eptesicus
fuscus_ [big brown bat], and _Pipistrellus subflavus_ [eastern
pipestrelle] have remained small.
1. Trombulak, Stephen C, Higuera, Philip E, DesMeules, Mark (2001):
Population trends of wintering bats in Vermont. Northeastern
2. WH Davis, HB Hitchcock: Biology and Migration of the Bat, _Myotis
lucifugus_, in New England
Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 46, No. 2 (May, 1965), pp. 296-313
Additional white-nose syndrome report:
For more on the Aeolus Cave, Vermont, go to
For pictures of the bats named go to ProMED-mail 20080131.0389
New York and Vermont in the northeastern United States can be located
on the HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map at
<http://healthmap.org/promed?v=40,-97.6,4>. - Mod.MHJ]