White Nose Syndrome is a disease that affects insect eating bats, generally it attacks while they are hibernating. It is a white fungus that grows on the nose, ears and ears, and can ultimately be deadly for the bat. It has been rapidly spreading since the winter of 2007.
Bats infected with this fungus are seen to act oddly during the hibernation period, seeking the cold air and often venturing out during the day. This causes the bat to consume its fat reserves more rapidly and can cause emaciation during the winter months. It is a highly infectious fungus, and has been known to wipe out entire caves or hibernacula of bats, by 2012 more than 5 million bats had succumbed to this disease.
While many people may see this as good thing, due to human’s aversion to bats because they are commonly used as a symbol for blood sucking vampires; the truth is that bats are extremely important to the balance of the ecosystem. This fungus affects mainly insect eating bats, this means that if these bats die out, then insect populations will be allowed to grow unchecked, affecting crops and farm animals all across North America.
Already, whole species of bats have been severely hit in numbers due to this disease, and the numbers are hard to recover even if the spreading of the fungus is stopped due to bats breeding habits. Bats usually have only one pup per year, so the recuperation period for affected species will be long and tedious work. Some species have been decimated in 90%, and scientists are predicting the extinction of at least one of them.
The fungus is spread from direct contact bat to bat, so the high concentration of bats in a single cave is a perfect feeding ground for the disease to thrive on. Although scientists are still investigating the cause and behavior of this disease, it is said to have started in New York, apparently brought from Europe by humans, as bats do not migrate across the Atlantic. The survival of bats is essential to the North American ecosystems, and a cure or prevention of the disease is urgent to avoid more dwindling numbers.
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