by Heather Jones
A healthy colony of brown bats–close to 300 females and their pups–was discovered in Nova Scotia in June. That’s very good news for farmers.
According to experts, a little brown bat can devour almost 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour. Researchers estimate that bats save the North American agricultural industry around $3.7 billion per year in pest control.
But close to seven million bats have been killed by White-nose syndrome (WNS) in Canada and the U.S. since 2006. The fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), that causes WNS has been confirmed in five provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Ontario, and in 29 U.S. states.
Last year, over 90 percent of Nova Scotia’s bat population disappeared. New Brunswick had about 7,000 bats a decade ago living in 10 caves. But last year there were only 13.
WNS did not officially arrive in the Atlantic region until March 2011. The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) reports it has been found in seven counties in Nova Scotia, eight in New Brunswick, and all three in P.E.I.
Pd thrives in cold environments like the caves and mines where bats hibernate. “(It) grows on the skin of the bat, producing a fuzzy, white appearance on the muzzle, wings and ears,” said a CWHC representative. The infection disturbs the bats’ hibernation and they use up their fat reserves before spring arrives.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), “More than half of the 47 bat species in the U.S. and Canada hibernate to survive the winter.” It reports that seven species have been confirmed with WNS, and Pd has been detected on another five species.
The CWHC and the USFWS are part of a collaborative effort to defeat WNS. They continue to search for Pd, decontaminate caves and mines, monitor bat populations, and develop conservation plans.
For more information, visit: www.whitenosesyndrome.org.