Arkansas is the 23rd state stricken with the deadly white-nose syndrome in cave-dwelling bats after state biologists confirmed its presence in two northern long-eared bats in January. Biologists estimate that bat deaths caused by the cold-loving fungus, first found in winter 2006 and 2007, exceed 5 million to 7 million—although exact numbers are unknown. It is suspected the disease makes the bats wake up every three days or so during hibernation to clean the fungus off, which causes the bats to burn through their fat reserves.
Besides the fact that bats are the world’s only true flying mammal, bats serve as critical pollinators of our food. They also eat thousands of insects in a single night, and their pest-control value to the economy is estimated in the tens of billions of dollars.
Up until recently, the little brown bat was one of the most numerous bats. Now conservationists predict the species may be extinct in the Northeast within 10 years, given that whole maternity colonies have disappeared after suffering from white-nose syndrome.
Can I do something?
Yes! Fungal spores may be inadvertently carried to caves by humans on clothing, boots and equipment. Bat experts say people should try to get in the habit of not setting backpacks on the ground when hiking and caving anymore. If you have a cat, keep it indoors, particularly in May and June when baby bats are born. You can also buy or build bat houses to put on your property. Added benefit: insect control!