Biologists are stumped by a plague that has killed tens of thousands, and perhaps hundreds of thousands, of bats this year in Northeastern states.
The cause of “white-nose syndrome,” so named because of the white fungus that appears on bats’ noses and wings, remains a mystery. And the plague is still killing bats, alarming scientists who had considered it a winter syndrome.
“The surprise for us has been finding out that bats are still dying,” says biologist Susi von Oettingen of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service office in Concord, N.H. Biologists combing summertime roosts report finding six species of bats affected by the syndrome in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut, she says.
“I’m continuing to get calls on a daily basis from cities and residents reporting dead bats,” says Scott Darling of the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife. Spot surveys are being done in the five states, but conservation officials won’t get a solid sense of further losses until later this month when male bats begin returning to caves, Darling says.
One bat can eat more than a pound of night-time insects in a week. White-nose syndrome threatens the endangered Indiana bat, Darling says, and agricultural pest numbers may explode without bats.