Just like in people, animals can have diseases that can catch that can cause illness or death. White-nose syndrome is that for a number of different bat species throughout North America. White-nose syndrome is a fungal infection that is known to grow on the face of bats. It is caused by a fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd). It grows on the face of bats that are inactive, usually during hibernation. This disease is causing serious damage to various bat species.
How are the bats being affected?
This fungus grows in areas that are damp, cool, and dark which makes cave a prime location for it to flourish. As it grows on the bats it causes them to act in ways that are not normal or natural for them. It will make them do things like fly around during the daytime in the winter. This type of activity is dangerous for them because it will cause them to burn up important fat stores that they need to survive the winter. If they burn up these stores too quickly, they can die.
It is affecting specific species, and in some species 90 to 100% of populations have been wiped out from white-nose syndrome. Northern long-eared bats, little brown bats, and tri-colored batts have seen a decline in their numbers due to this infection. Although it is seen in other bats, it is not affecting those species the way it is affecting these three species.
Where did it come from?
It was first seen in photographs taken by cave explorers in caves around Albany, New York in 2006. Sick and dying bats were not observed by scientists and researchers until 2007. Before this point, scientists were not even aware of this infection in bats. It is believed that it was introduced into their environments by people going in to explore. It has been observed in other areas around the world like Europe and Asia, but it is not affecting the bats on those continents as it is in North America.
It is likely that people introduced the fungus to the habitats of the bats. The spores of the fungus are able to survive for long periods of time on their clothes, shoes, and other outdoor supplies and gear. It has also been discovered that it is spreading across North America by bat to bat contact during hibernation and migration. It is transmitted from people to habitat, habitat to bats, and bats to other bats.
What is being done to help the bats?
There is no known cure for the disease, but science is working to figure out all that it can so that they can do what they need to help the bat species that are being affected. They do know that people are not susceptible to contracting the infection. They are researching vaccines and habitat changes to see if there are possibilities with these ideas to help the bats. It is important for people to understand the dangers that they pose to wildlife, just as they must be aware of the dangers wildlife poses to them.