28 January 2011

White-nose syndrome in bats

Tom Kunz has been studying bats throughout New England for more than four decades... During trips to bat hibernacula—the bats’ winter hideouts—he grew accustomed to cave walls covered in huddled masses of bats, tens of thousands strong. Aeolus Cave in Vermont, the largest bat hibernaculum in the northeast, has long been a winter home for more than 100,000 bats....

Two years ago, a new, potent fungus was found rampaging through New York, Vermont and Pennsylvania, wiping out entire colonies of bats Kunz had studied since the Johnson administration. He and a group of graduate students visited Aeolus in January 2009 and were appalled at what they saw: Tracks in the snow made by crawling, starved bats; birds eviscerating bat carcasses outside the cave entrance; bats frozen into ice stalagmites, having died while trying to climb to higher ground; and a cave carpeted in bat bones.

“You couldn’t step on the cave floor the last two winters without walking on dead bats. It was just horrible,” Kunz said. “I’m not an emotional person, but I was in tears when I saw this ... it’s just devastating. It’s unprecedented in the annals of science.”...

Since 2006, about a million bats in the northeastern United States have died during hibernation. The culprit is white-nose syndrome (WNS), caused by a fungus called Geomyces destructans that biologists believe arrived from Europe. The bats awaken every few days, burning their precious fat reserves; ultimately, they freeze, starve to death or are picked off by opportunistic predators....
Further details at this PopSci article and at this one.
Blehert said that because the disease does not spread to humans, getting the public to care means educating them about the value of bats and the potential loss of creatures that are an important part of the ecosystem.
Consider this: one little brown bat can eat 600 mosquitoes in an hour.


  1. I wish I lived on a planet where the general population didn't have to be DIRECTLY effected to care.

    What happens to one of us happens to all of us.

  2. This is just heartbreaking. It's as bad as what's happening to the bees. We're f@3%ing up this planet so badly we deserve to be eradicated so the other animals can still have it.

  3. I share that sentiment Anonymous;
    And I seem to face harsh criticism for feeling so.

    I prioritize environmental and animal causes before any humanitarian causes, always.

    Then I get caught in a cognitive battle: If more humans were healthy and educated maybe it could improve our relationship with this world. Then I remember the majority, educated or not, seem ruthlessly self-serving and short-sighted.

    Eventually leaving me at the same conclusion: we must be eradicated.

    I don't much like that conclusion (some people really deserve to live, not sure I'm even among them).

    But the evidence of our fragility is all around us: In the right situation we will be just as helpless as these poor bats.

    "Mom is comin' round to put it back the way it ought to be." -MJK

  4. That's an extreme and unfair conclusion, Anon. We're hardly the first species to cause the extinction of others. Humans are a part of nature, even if we choose to see ourselves as otherwise. We have the same greedy, self-profiting instincts as any other species and we're possibly the best opportunists on the planet. Some of us are just intelligent and concerned enough to care and want to help the species at risk, whether it's our fault or not. I think that makes us worthwhile.

    The truth about this situation is that they're still figuring it out. No one knows yet what caused the transfer of the fungus to North American bats and if that's the source of the disease or if it's taking advantage of weakened bats. I think it says something wonderful about humans that some of us do care and that time and money are being used to try to understand and reverse this horrible situation...again...whether its our fault or not.

  5. Robb, you wrote that while I was adding my first reply.

    I have to wonder when people have this horrid, negative attitude why they would view their own species as any less valuable than any other.

    If you had a time machine, would you go back and kill off all the cyanobacteria that carelessly released oxygen? They made an impact on the planet that we can still see, some 2.4 billion years later, as layers of rust in ancient rocks. They killed off nearly all anaerobic life. It is theorized by some as the largest extinction of any on Earth, but is often trivialized because we don't value microbial life anywhere near as much as we should. They changed the planet in a way that led to life as we know it. They even changed the color of the ocean. They and the other survivors were the base of the tree of all the life that you demonize humans for threatening. They were destructive, on an unfathomable level, but also creative (in the biological sense) and prosperous. We wouldn't be here if not for their mindless pursuit of their simple lifestyles.

    I'm not saying on any level that we are blameless. We have only started realizing our impact and our connectivity over the last 150-odd years. The message is spreading. Compassion is spreading. Compassion is a rare thing in nature. A fluke even. To have a whole species capable of it is amazing. Instead of wishing us gone, wish us improved. Around the world people who care are spreading concern for nature, just as concern for humanity was spread by the Enlightenment. Neither has reached full saturation, but both continue to grow with the generations. Humans are capable of brutality, violence, destruction, and other horrors made worse by our ability to know the pain we cause. We're also able to make and appreciate art, music, culture like no other species. That something so good and so bad and so strong as Homo sapiens could come from such humble origins is at the core of the true wonder of this world. That we can understand any of it is an even greater wonder.

    Could we be doing better by the rest of the planet? Absolutely. Do we as humans have just as much right to be here as every shrew, begonia, frog, bat, etc? Absolutely.

  6. I didn't say we "needed" to be or even "should" be eradicated.

    I said we DESERVE to be - for the selfish, heedless, wanton and intentional destruction we have visited on this planet.

    To my knowledge, we are the only species that will intentionally s**t in its own nest to the point where living in that nest is no longer even feasible, let alone desirable. Other species have at least retained the innate ability to expand or contract their populations as environmental circumstances dictate. With our supposed "mastery" over our environment/nature, we've largely been able to overcome this obstacle.

    Has it made us any better off? My personal jury is still very much out on that one.

  7. Many a time I have encountered this kind of news, whether it is about bees or bats or endangered birds. In some cases I find a disturbing trend of "oh it won't harm us" or "it's only temnporary." We have to realize that we live in a world that is effected by our actions, both good and bad, and that we ourselves are effected by those actions as well, be it in the long term or short. We are always effected by that.

    I'm kinda wondering if this disease may be caused by pesticides or by reminants of DDT left in the environment. I remember reading an article in high school about how Inuits living around the northern part of Canada were being effected by DDT in the fish and seals they were eatting, even though DDT had been phased out fifty years ago. Certain man-made toxins if not all, will remain in the environment far longer than most people realize.

  8. Cloud, it's called the "butterfly effect". not after that dreadful ashton kutcher movie, but the theory first propounded by edward lorenz.

  9. blithery,

    I should clarify my "judgment" of mankind was not based on the (as you said unknown) circumstances which this fungus reached America. But rather, the general public's disinterest in something that didn't involve humans directly.
    If it wasn't for this blog I would not even be aware of the ordeal. I guess mainstream media deems it far too trivial when compared to scandals and politics. And truthfully the majority of people probably wouldn't care. That's what stuck with me.

    SO I obviously would not be attempting any righteous time-traveling and destroying anything in anyway.

    I understand your point about the drastic effects other species can have on the ecosystem. But to compare the atmosphere conversion of cyanobacteria to things like air pollution, strip-mining, chemical dumping, bio-engineering, Nuclear anything, and many other human creations- doesn't quite seem fair. Just because we are part of nature does not make our actions somehow part of the same balance nature achieves.

    But I don't think that's what you intended to say. I think you thought I was blaming humans for this fungus attacking bats. It's possible, but I don't know for sure.

    I'm blaming them for not caring.

    And by "them" I obviously don't mean EVERYBODY. You seem very smart and compassionate-
    I'm sure you are a very decent person. I have great admiration for the many humans that are far better than myself and don't think they deserve to be wiped out. Like all the people dedicating their time to helping these bats.

    However, I have to wonder if those precious few are a match against the uncountable waves of oblivious meat-sacks that breed, use, and abuse their world beyond recognition.

    I try not to lose hope. But sometimes I feel like hope is really all we have to work with.
    As you said, it's a natural survival instinct- but mixed with our intelligence is proving to be dangerous and non-sustainable.

    sustainability might be a new way of thinking to the modern world, but many ancient cultures were well aware of the significance of all living things as one sacred whole. We just wiped them all out, and had to "rediscover" that truth.


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