White Nose Syndrome: What Can We Do To Save New England's Bats?
By now, you’re likely familiar with the deadly epidemic that is killing off bats throughout the Northeast. It’s called White Nose Syndrome – a moniker derived from the fuzzy whiteness that appears on the noses of affected animals. First noticed in the winter of 2006, White Nose Syndrome (WNS) has caused the death of over 5.7 million bats in North America. Since bats are virtual bug-eating machines (a bat can eat one thousand mosquitoes in an hour), there are going to be a lot more bugs now that there are fewer bats to eat them. The Forest Service estimates that at least 2.4 million pounds of bugs will go uneaten this year, because of the die-off from WNS.
Biologists and bat experts are still baffled by what it causing this devastating and mysterious disease. In spite of intensive research, now fueled by a $450,000 Congressional appropriation, we’re still very much in dark about why these important little creatures are dying, and even more in the dark about how to fix it.
We might not have a cure, but there ARE things you and I can do to help. Here are a few:
1.Put up a bat house.
In the spring, bats migrate to their summer habitats. They need a safe place to raise their young, and they need to be near a good supply of food. Since bats eat an enormous amount of pesky insects, a bat house can very effectively cut down the number of mosquitoes, black flies, and other nasties around – making the summer more comfortable for you and your family. There are a lot of good bat houses that can be purchased online, and easily installed on the side of your house, or on a nearby tree. Or, if you’re the do it yourself type, you can build your own. Here’s a good link with step-by-step instructions and video: http://www.batconservation.org/bat-houses/build-your-own-bat-house
Some Ready-to-Install Bat Houses:
Some helpful resources:
2. Say “no” to pesticides.
We already know that going organic is better for us and our families. Research suggests that it’s better for the bats as well. Some biologists suspect that bats’ immune systems are being damaged by eating bugs that have ingested pesticides from fields treated with them. While there’s no hard evidence yet that this harm to their immune systems is triggering susceptibility to White Nose Disease, we know it can’t help.3. Donate
There are quite a few organizations out there, directly involved with helping bring an end to White Nose Syndrome. I don’t want to sway you to one organization or another, but a quick internet search will provide you with several reputable candidates. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has some good links on their website as well: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/wnshowtohelp.html4. Stay away from caves
Researchers surmise that the problem may have started in the first place by a cave explorer (a spelunker) introducing the disease to a cave where bats spend the winter in hibernation. Through pathogens contained on his clothes, after spelunking in non-US caves, it’s possible that the disease was brought here from abroad. As curious as we may be, the last thing the bats need is for well-meaning individuals to spread the disease to previously unaffected caves. So until this is all over – better put spelunking on the back burner.5. Write to you Senator and Congressman.
Make sure your representatives know how concerned you are about this epidemic. Our elected officials have the ability to make sure that funds continue to be tasked to finding a cause and a cure. Here’s a link to help you find out who your elected officials are, and how to contact them: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml
We may not be able to single handedly solve this dire situation overnight, but with our concerted effort, we can help. There’s a cure waiting to be found, and in the meantime, making it easy for the remaining bat population to find housing near food and away from pesticides, gives them their best fighting chance at survival.
For more information on White Nose Syndrome:
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