Why The Disappearance Of North American Bats Could Mean Disaster For Humans

The bats of North America may soon be facing extinction because of an insidious disease called white-nose syndrome (WNS). The fungus-borne disease has caused native bat populations to drop by millions in recent years, potentially the worst wildlife health emergency in US history.

According to the National Park Service, WNS appeared in New York in 2006, after having been brought over from Europe. WNS spread to more than half of the United States and five Canadian provinces by August 2016, leaving millions of bats dead.

Millions of bats have already died due to white-nose syndrome.
Millions of bats have already died due to white-nose syndrome.

Bats with WNS develop white fuzzy fungal growth on their muzzles and wings during hibernation, Bat Conversation International reports. The fungus forces them to expend as much as twice the amount of energy as healthy bats during winter hibernation. Infected bats often emerge too soon from hibernation and are often seen flying around in midwinter. These bats usually freeze or starve to death.

WNS causes high death rates and fast population declines in the species affected by it, and scientists predict some  regional extinction of bat species, reports a study in Science. These include the once numerous little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) and federally listed Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) and northern long-eared bat (Myotis spetentronalis).

Bats with WNS develop white fuzzy fungal growth on their muzzles and wings during hibernation
Bats with WNS develop white fuzzy fungal growth on their muzzles and wings during hibernation

Bats are an essential, beneficial part of our ecosystem, the National Park Service maintains. The loss of our bat populations will have substantial ecological consequences, as well as disaster for crops across the country. Bats are further the only major predator of night flying insects, with one bat able to eat between 600 to 1,000 mosquitoes and other flying pests in just one hour.

If bats disappear the insect population will boom, causing crop failure, economic damage and human illness. Increased pesticide use in the absence of bats could meanwhile cost the US billions of dollars, and harm the environment.

Bats are an essential, beneficial part of our ecosystem.
Bats are an essential, beneficial part of our ecosystem.

Senator Patrick Leahy, Capitol Hill’s biggest Batman fan and the only member of Congress to appear in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, has been joined by others in calling for greater funding to combat WNS.

“Bats are vital to the sustainability of natural ecosystems, national economies, and human health by controlling damaging insect pests, pollinating plants including fruits and vegetables, and dispersing seeds to ensure healthy functioning ecosystems,” Leahy writes. “Research suggests that bats save U.S. farmers at least $3 billion a year in pest control, and some years the value may be as high as $53 billion a year.”

Help us save the bats of North America!
Help us save the bats of North America!

Join us in asking Congress to increase financial support for the national plan to fight white-nose syndrome proposed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Click below and make a difference!

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