Hibernating North American Bats Face Possible Endangerment

Many of you have probably been following the news on the recent deaths of thousands of blackbirds in Arkansas that have, so far, been attributed to confusion brought on by local fireworks causing the birds to fly into objects. You are probably also aware of the mysterious deaths of more birds in Lousiana just a few days after the Arkansas incident. The underlying cause of these mass deaths is under investigation since tests of the carcasses for potential toxins or diseases are still underway.

Equally mysterious are the deaths of numerous fish in Arkansas, Maryland, Brazil, and New Zealand. While the cause of these die-offs are being blamed on everything from polar shifts, government conspiracies, acts of God, pollutants from the oil spill, etc., investigations are still underway to determine whether or not disease or toxins may be to blame. If only real-life were like a CSI episode and we could have an answer in 1 hour to these mysterious deaths.

Not receiving nearly the amount of press as the bird and fish die-offs are the more gradual deaths of numerous North American Bats that have been somewhat of a mystery until recently. Now it appears that the case has been solved. The December issue of National Geographic had a wonderful article discussing how a white fungus could be responsible for the declining populations of bats. The Geomyces destructans fungus was first observed in hibernating North American bats in 2006 and has since decimated populations. According to the article, "a million or more animals were lost in three years." The reason it is so lethal is that it affects animals during hibernation when their body temperatures are lower and are less able to combat the fungus. There are two dozen species of bats that hibernate in North America that are at risk of contracting the fungus. Dr. Tom Kunz from Boston University has been studying potential reasons for the lethal nature of this fungus in hibernating animals, which may include depressed immune system responses in hibernating animals, early arousal from hibernation resulting in depletion of fat stores, as well as the formation of lesions on their wings which can impair flight.

Photo Credit: Stephen Alvarez. To view more photos, visit the Photo Gallery


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