Looking At What Happened To Bats in North America
After suffering from an invasive fungus that nearly wiped out the bats in Nova Scotia, nearly 10 years ago, the bats are said to be making a comeback. Described as an “unprecented natural disaster”, over 95% of the species was wiped during the winter of 2012-2013. Now, however, numbers appear to be increasing once more.
White Nose Syndrome in Bats and a Deadly Fungus
White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) is a collective name given to a wide range of symptoms. Most notably, these include the growth of fungus around the muzzles and wings of hibernating bats. At this point, however, these signs mean that the fungus is already in the later stages of growth.
Sadly, at this point, the bat is already in the late stages of life-threatening physical function changes. Internally, the bat is already suffering with massive dehydration and acidification. This is on top of the fungus spreading across the skin of the bat, externally. In addition to this, bats who have WNS will use up energy stores twice as fast as those without the fungus.
As such, when it comes to hibernation, infected bats will, unfortunately, either wake to find food (therefore risking exposure.) or they will use their energy stores more quickly than they their body should. Worse still, because the fungus appears to thrive in colder conditions, the winter months make this all the more deadly – at a time when the bats are already vulnerable.
Can This Transmit to Humans?
Having had enough of one pandemic for a couple of lifetimes, you’ll be glad to know that there is little risk of the fungus transmitting to humans. The fungus grows at 5 -20 degrees C (41-68 degrees F). Which is cooler than the human body temperature sits at (36.1 – 37.2 C/ 97 – 99 F. Of course, contact with bats can increase the risk of exposure to other illness, such as rabies. As such, it’s still inadvisable to travel, in order to see the bats for yourself.
Similarly, it’s important to note that the fungus is likely spread through contact. Rather than being airborne, such as the Coronavirus, it requires direct touch in order to spread. Additionally, the fungus appears to be present in the ground and environment around the bats. So, if you’re thinking of travelling to Nova Scotia to see the bats for yourself, hold off. You could potentially be spreading contaminated samples of earth to other areas and endangering more bats.
Which Bats Are Affected?
Despite the fungus seemingly hailing from Europe, it appears that only bats in North America are susceptible to WNS. Of these, the most vulnerable appear to include the Gray Bat, Eastern Small-Footed Bat, the Little Brown Bat and Tricolored Bat. However, almost all bats can become infected in areas where WNS is thriving. As such, in some areas, up to 90% of the bat population has been decimated, while remaining numbers are struggling with the fungus.
However, three of the most at-risk bat breeds may be showing a steady recuperation in numbers. Given that the bats are also an essential part of the farming and general ecosystem, the news is being quietly celebrated by ecologists. Bats are able to consume up to 1,000 bugs an hour, making them an exceptionally efficient natural pesticide.
Indeed, researchers are hopeful that the increase suggests an uptick in the bat population. For example, in 2018, bat numbers sat at around 380. However, this year, the number seems to be increasing to around 600. Lori Phinney, a wildlife biologist with the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute, suggests that these changes could be due to more bats gathering at fewer sites, however.
Speaking to CBC, she says: “With the help of the public reporting bat sightings, we can hopefully figure this out over the next few years. What we really want is where you saw the bat, the date and the time. And maybe what the bat was doing.”
The Nova Scotia Bat Conservation Site Needs You
For those who live in the Nova Scotia area, you’ll be pleased to know that you can make a difference. The Nova Scotia Bat Conservation Site is looking for residents to report their sightings. With a goal of collecting mass knowledge of past and present sightings, residents can guide future recovery efforts.
On the website, you can also download a bat conservation poster. Doing this and displaying it proudly can help encourage others to make a difference. Not to mention it can help in spreading the word, so that more humans can understand the risks to our ever-important wildlife, around the world.