Bat populations are being decimated by a mysterious and incredibly deadly killer. The infectious disease White Nose Syndrome (WNS) has killed more than one million bats and is spreading unchecked across the United States.
|Image credit FWS.gov|
Since first being discovered in 2006 by a caver in New York state, WNS has affected bats in 16 states and 4 Canadian provinces. Bats infected with WNS are often found with a white substance on their muzzles or other parts of their bodies and dangerously low body fat. The disease seems to confuse infected bats as they fly during the day and during cold winter weather when the insects they feed upon are not available, rapidly depleting stored body fat.
WNS appears to prefer hibernating species of bats but each of the 45 species of bats in North America may be at risk if a solution isn't soon found.
Fist found in New York, the disease has spread as far west as Oklahoma and is already threatening local extinctions of some species. Endangered species such as the Indiana and gray could be at particular long term risk.
This catastrophic decline of an important species has far-reaching impacts as bats control insects that damage crops and carry disease. A recent study published in Science magazine estimates that the value of pest control provided by bats each year is at least $3.7 billion.
USGS Scientists recently identified the fungus Geomyces destructans as the culprit behind WNS but much more research needs to be done to develop a means of controlling this deadly disease. We are asking President Obama to include urgently needed funding for White Nose Syndrome research in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget to stop this killer before it pushes vulnerable bat species closer to extinction.