According to Bat Conservation International, white-nose syndrome (WNS) is a fungus that is believed to have killed more than 6 million bats since 2006. This cold-weather fungus attacks the noses, ears and wings of hibernating bats. The syndrome causes bats to emerge from winter hibernation early, when insects aren’t yet available to feed on. While searching for food, bats use up excess fat reserves that are necessary to survive the winter. Their body temperature drops, and they eventually starve to death. At some bat hibernation sites, nearly the entire colony has been destroyed.
Researchers say that WNS is the most serious threat to bats in recorded history, and efforts are underway to help save them. Scientists are studying when and how WNS spreads in hopes of slowing its spread of 15-20 miles per year. We can help protect bats by installing bat boxes near our homes. These alternative roosts for bats can provide fungi-free environments and reduce the migratory distance between winter hibernation sites and the places where bats live in the summer.
Bats play an important part in the ecosystem. They are a natural pesticide, and in the U.S. they consume as much as their body weight in insects each night. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that for every million bats that die, at least 2.4 million pounds of bugs will go uneaten. This could become a problem for farmers, as crops may be destroyed by insects. Fewer bats also means we can expect to see more mosquitos in our yards.
Remember, if you ever come across a wild bat that looks hurt or sick, do not touch or move it. Never pick up a wild animal that looks hurt or sick. It could carry disease, and it might bite you or do other harm because it is afraid, or trying to protect itself. Report a sick or injured bat to the local police or the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
For more information on WNS, visit whitenosesyndrome.org.For information on how to build a bat house, visit dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/bathouse.html.