KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Little Brown Bats could be soon extinct due to White-nose Syndrome, according to the Great Smokies Mountains National Park.
The bats eat half their weight in insects each day. This reduces populations of disease-caring mosquitoes and crop pests. The bats are also pollinators and nourish the caves they live in.
The National Park Service reported their population has decreased by 90% due to the syndrome since 2009. Researchers from Boston University, the University of Santa Cruz, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission created a model to estimate the spread of WNS. To make sure the results were accurate, the same model was run 1000 times.
The results were grim. The model was run two ways. The first model assumed a 45% mortality each year and the second assumed the disease would get less severe over time. The first model found a 99% chance that the Little Brown Bat will be extinct in just 16 years. The second model found that 90% chance the bats would be extinct within 65 years, by 2075.
WNS is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans and affects hibernating bats. It exhibits itself as a white fungus growing on the muzzle of infected bats. The fungus can also grow on and impact a bat’s wing and ear tissue. As of today, 29 states and 5 Canadian provinces are considered WNS-positive, including Tennessee, according to the TWRA. The disease has infected 12 types of bats and killed millions.
However, there are ways you can help keep this little bat around and eating bugs for years to come.
“Only through massive efforts and intensive study can there be a hopeful future for cave-roosting bats in the eastern United States,” reads the national park’s website.
So what can you do to help? The biggest piece of advice is to stay out of caves. You can spread WNS without realizing it from cave to cave. If you are going into a cave, make sure to clean your shoes and gear before and after entering. Click this link to learn more about how to decontaminate.
Next, report any dead or injured bats. If you are within the national park, contact park personnel. For outside the park, contact the TWRA. This allows officials to gain a greater picture of the disease’s spread and develop strategies to better control WNS’s spread.
In your own backyard, there are several things you can do to support bat populations. First, building a bat box. This help give bats a safe place to call home. Next, limit disturbances to bats’ habitat by reducing outdoor lighting, and tree clearing. Overall, make sure to leave bats alone. Watch the bats from a distance, and avoid disturbing them whenever possible.
Finally, find ways to get involved. A number of groups work to conserve bats. They offer opportunities, such as events and activities, to work on behalf of bats. In Tennessee, the GSMNP, the TWRA and Tennessee State Parks offer several ways to learn more about the animals.
To learn more, visit whitenosesyndrome.org.