Tuesday, December 22, 2009

No bats in the belfry

There was an article in today's Chicago Tribune that there has been a record die-off of bats. Is this yet another sign that mother nature has taken ill?

Across the Northeastern states bats are experiencing mortality rates over 90 percent. The cause is a fungus that causes white-nose syndrome. The fungus covers the heads, legs, and wings of hibernating bats. The bats wake up out of hibernation in an attempt to scratch off the fungus which depletes their fat reserves. The hungry bats then leave the cave in search of insects which haven't hatched, causing the bats to die in large numbers in fields and snow covered lawns. The fungus itself can also lead to skin loss and ulcers that can be fatal. How bad is this loss? In Connecticut's largest hibernation site the population of little brown bats has dropped from 2,320 bats in 2007 to only 108 this winter. Northern long-eared bats in the same cave declined from 527 in 2007 to 70 this year and tiny pipistrelle bats fell from 396 to 98.

While scientists aren't sure what's causing the fungus one thing for sure is those areas affected will probably see a huge increase in insect populations. Bats consume 1/3 of their body weight each night. This means that a group of 1,000 bats could eat four tons of insects each year. With a die off of over 2,000 bats in one area, that's over 8 tons of insects flying around that otherwise would have been bat food.

Is this fungus caused by global warming? Is it an invasive species brought from somewhere else? We don't know. One thing we do know is with fewer bats things will get downright buggy.

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