Monday, April 6, 2009

Heating Bats' Winter Homes May Stop White-Nose Syndrome

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little brown bats with white nose syndrome in NY (photo NY DEC)
based on an AP news story, "Heaters might stave off doom for bats," by Michael Hill, Mar 5, 2009

Over half a million bats have died in the past three years, from New England to Virginia, of a fungus known as "white-nose syndrome." The fungus has spread from two caves in upstate New York to at least 55 caves in several states. The fungus threatens to completely wipe out the already endangered Indiana Bat.

But it has been found that placing heated boxes in the bat's hibernation caves help the bats make it through the winter. With warmer caves, the bats do not have to burn as much fat to stay warm.

The fungus itself does not kill the bats. It apparently disrupts their sleep pattern, causing them to wake up often, use more energy than normal, and subsequently starve to death.

The heaters will not cure the disease, but it would be a stop-gap measure until more is known about the fungus. David Blehert, who first identified white-nose syndrome, said that the fungus is not spread from bat to bat in the summer because it needs cold to thrive. Blehert is a researcher with the US Geological Survey Wildlife Health Center.

No one knows if the heaters will make a significant difference, but a pilot study is being funded with a $28,000 grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The test will be conducted in a cave in Manitoba, Canada.

Blehert said that the problem is so critical that it makes sense to at least test the hypothesis.

See Indiana Bats Dying from Mysterious Mold
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