The Organization for Bat Conservation and Bat Conservation International worked with the U.S. Forest Service to celebrate National Bat Week from October 26-November 1. Talks and presentations focused on the important role that bats play in the food chain and in the ecosystem as a whole as well as the many dangers that threaten already-fragile populations.
The Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) has been listed as endangered since 1967 when loss of habitat, pesticides, commercialization and disturbances during hibernation led to massive die-offs. Indiana bats are dark brown to black in color and have a wingspan from nine to 11 inches but weigh less than a quarter of an ounce. Other bat species in Indiana are Little Brown bats (Myotis lucifugus), Eastern pipistrelle or Tri-colored bat (Perimyotis subflavus) and Big Brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus).
In 2006, a new threat, white-nose syndrome (WNS), was identified. WNS is a disease named for the ring of white fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) around the face, nose and wings that affects bats in hibernation. The exact mode of fungal action is unclear, but more than six million bats in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada have perished since 2006.
Indiana bat populations declined 16%; Little Brown bats declined 80%; Eastern pipistrelles declined 45%; and Big Brown populations increased 4% from 2011 to 2013. In some caves, 90-100% of the hibernating populations, ranging from a few thousand to between 20,000-50,000 individuals, have died from WNS.
WNS has now spread from its initial New York cave location to 24 additional states (Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin) and five Canadian provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Quebec). The Pseudogymnoascus destructans fungus has also been found in Iowa, Minnesota and Mississippi. This threat is so severe that U.S. Fish and Wildlife authorities have enacted a moratorium on all caving activities in affected areas and strongly urges decontamination of clothing or equipment used while in the affected areas.
Additional research and response efforts have been established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and can be found in detail on the reference sites listed below.
Indiana Bat Fact Sheet, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services
White Nose Syndrome: Where Is It Now? whitenosesyndrome.org
WNS in Indiana, Indiana DNR
Bat Calendar, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Video: Battle for the Bats: Surviving White Nose Syndrome, Vimeo.com
Shaneka Lawson, Adjunct Assistant Professor
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources