July 6, 2008

Experts Study Bats’ ‘White-Nose’ Problem

Wildlife biologists say they are trying to learn why bats in the Northeast United States are dying of what's being called white-nose syndrome.

Connecticut State Department of Environmental Protection biologists Jenny Dickson, Geoff Krukar and Christina Kocer say an unknown force has been driving bats to leave their caves earlier than normal in winter, The Hartford (Conn.) Courant reported Sunday.

The animals then begin to starve as cold temperatures keep away their main food supply: insects.

White-nose syndrome is named for the white fungus found on the noses of scores of afflicted bats.

Last month, researchers from 14 states, eight universities, federal agencies and Canadian wildlife officials met in Albany, N.Y., for a conference on white-nose. Among their efforts will be identifying likely pathogens affecting bats and factors that could be affecting winter hibernation.

Scientists at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis., think they may already have made a breakthrough. Dr. Anne E. Ballmann of the center said a cold-loving fungus called geomyces has been identified as a fungi of interest. The scientists found it grows quickly at low temperatures.

The Courant said the research is vital to humans, as well, since adult bats can eat more than 4,000 mosquitoes each night.