Published Date: 2009-04-14 23:50:00
Subject: PRO/AH/EDR> White-nose syndrome, bats - USA (08): (MA)
Archive Number: 20090414.1413
WHITE-NOSE SYNDROME, BATS - USA (08): (MASSACHUSETTS)
A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases
Date: 12 Apr 2009
Source: The Berkshire Eagle [edited]
Bat mortality deemed 'catastrophic' in Massachusetts
According to Andrew Madden, the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries
and Wildlife Western District Manager, the bat mortality rates in the
region has reached a 'catastrophic' level. In his monthly report to
the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen, he reported the results
from recent surveys of bat hibernacula (hibernating places, typically
caves and mines) in Massachusetts. The surveys have shown dramatic
rates of mortality and biologists are attributing this die-off to
White Nose Syndrome (WNS).
Evidence of the syndrome has appeared in bats throughout the
Northeast and is now being found as far south as Virginia. In some
hibernacula, bats are dying by the thousands. Mortality in some caves
and mines in Massachusetts may be as high as 95 or 100 percent.
As an example, Madden mentioned that one of the biggest hibernacula
(in Chester), which normally has 8 000 to 10 000 bats at this time of
year, had only 150 remaining. Some of the infected bats have the
characteristic white fungus on their muzzles.
Biologists don't know if the cold-loving white fungus is a symptom of
WNS or the cause. They also don't know exactly how the syndrome
spreads. Once the white fungus has been seen, it's only a matter of
time before a high percentage of the bats is affected. The fungus
spreads from their faces to their wings and tails, their behavior
changes, they use up their stores of body fat, get very skinny and
More than a dozen research labs are currently studying the syndrome
and trying to learn more about what it is, what's causing it, how it
is transmitted and how to prevent it. Transmission of WNS may be
bat-to-bat, or perhaps by spelunkers (cavers) who may be carrying WNS
on their equipment. (Footwear, clothing and gear worn or used in one
cave or mine should not be used in another).
Lab researchers have focused on the possible causes of WNS, but so
far there have been no viruses, bacteria or other pathogens found.
Contaminants, the amount and quality of fall feeding, and the rate at
which energy stored as fat is used up are also being studied.
Although WNS is not known to affect humans, bats can transmit other
diseases such as rabies, so always take the precaution of wearing
thick gloves when handling a bat, whether it is dead or alive. Bats
groom the fungus off before flying, so you will not see white fungus
on a bat that leaves its hibernaculum.
Biologists say that the biggest impact is on the little brown bat,
which is the version we often see cruising over our ponds, eating
At this time, the effects on the insect population are unknown. Bats
eat thousands of pounds of agricultural pests and nuisance species
like mosquitoes every summer, so there's no telling how the changes
to the bat population could ripple through the ecosystem, not to
mention the human food chain.
Madden said that we are witnessing what might be the end of bats in
our area. It could take decades and decades before they come back to
normal populations because they normally have only one pup a year.
For more information on the syndrome contact Tony Gola of the DFW
Western District headquarters.
[Byline: Gene Chague]
ProMED-mail Rapporteur Susan Baekeland
[The continuing decline of the bat population is not a good sign. The
number of insects consumed by bats is huge. A decrease in bats will
likely mean an over abundance of insects without a corresponding
natural control. As insects damage crops and food, more chemical will
likely be needed. Food prices will continue to go up. The increase in
insects will likely drive some producers who have been producing
natural or organic crops to chemicals in order to produce any product
Other bat populations that help pollinate crops could at some point
be affected by WNS and that will likely make the crop/food situation
We wish the researchers Godspeed and speedy breakthroughs to turn
back the apparent tide of WNS and bat deaths.
Pictures of affected species, including the little brown bat may be found at:
_Pipistrellus subflavus _:
[A map showing the location of the state of Massachusetts in the USA
is available at: