January 16

little brown bats suffering from white-nose syndrome Photo Credit: Nancy Heaslip, N.Y. Dept. of Environmental Conservation.

Science Fact

Common Bats Suddenly Endangered

In less than a decade, little brown bats, until recently one of the most common varieties of flying mammal in the United States, have become endangered. 5.5 million bats have died in the last six years.

That's because a virulent fungus, causing what is being called White-Nose Syndrome because the fuzzy white fungus is frequently found on bats' muzzles, has run rampant through hibernating bat populations across the Eastern U.S. Only discovered near Albany, N.Y., in 2006, the fungus has since spread across 18 states and four Canadian provinces, decimating 80-100 percent of the bats found at each of the more than 200 sites where it has been identified.

Scientists have only recently named the fungus (Geomyces destructans) which grows at temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit; they are now working together with federal, state, and tribal organizations to figure out how to stop it from spreading. White-Nose Syndrome causes bats to behave in unusual fashions during cold months when they would normally be hibernating -- including flying outside during the day and clustering near the entrances of caves -- before becoming sick and dying.

Scientists fear that up to 20 of the 45 bat species found in North America could be at risk. The White-Nose Syndrome has spread to at least six species so far.

Bats are beneficial animals that save the U.S. agricultural industry an estimated $3 billion a year by eating insects that harm crops. They also eat insects like mosquitos that annoy humans and assist with plant pollination and seed dissemination.

Check out the Science NetLinks tool Exploring Caves to learn more about bats' habitats. Then explore these resources from our Thinkfinity partners to learn more about these winged mammals:

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