From the Field

Saving Bats: Finding Solutions for White-Nose Syndrome

October 27, 2016

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More deadly than a Batman super-villain, white-nose syndrome is a fungal disease that has wiped out millions of bats in North America (in 29 states and 5 Canadian provinces) since 2007.

“White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus that’s not native to North America and it grows on bats while they’re hibernating in caves and basically causes them to use up the energy they have stored to get through the winter,” Cory Holliday, Cave and Karst Program Director for the Nature Conservancy in Tennessee explains. “And these bats end up out on the landscape in February and March looking for food and insects to eat, but it’s still winter, and they frequently just die of starvation.”

To fight this epidemic, since 2014 The Nature Conservancy and Bat Conservation International have co-funded research projects designed to test methods for controlling white-nose syndrome. One extremely promising project, which employs bacteria used to keep bananas from ripening too fast, has been shown to stop the white-nose fungus from growing. It led to the release of healed bats!

But because that project still needs more testing and because we don’t know which tools or techniques for fighting WNS will be most effective and cost efficient, it’s imperative that we try many approaches. Controlling this disease may require several different strategies.

In the meantime, while our scientists are racing to find the best treatments, we are making sure that we’re providing those bats that are surviving the best habitat protection we can.

Lisa Feldkamp

Lisa loves all things citizen science and enjoys learning about everything that goes on four legs, two wings or fins - she even finds six and eight-legged critters fascinating at a safe distance. She has a PhD in Classical Literature and Languages from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and enjoys reading Greek and Roman literature or talking about mythology in her spare time. More from Lisa

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8 comments

  1. Hi Lisa om my name is Isaiah i`m in the boys robotics team and we don`t have any solution to help bats and i thought that we can do it for white-nose syndrome because bats are suffering a lot more then anything else but if there is no way we can help bats from white-nose syndrome then tell me any other way we can help bats so if you are able to have time then please help us thank you if you read this whole thing i feel good because i had a bad day so thank you again.

    1. Hi Isaiah, I suggest that you contact your state’s Nature Conservancy chapter to find out if they are working with White-Nose Syndrome (or bat conservation) and if they’d be interested in having you volunteer in some way. Or you might consider contacting Bat Conservation International and finding out what volunteer opportunities they have near you. I’m not sure that robotics would factor into it, but it might be that you and your team find a way to help bats through robotics. Thank you for your comment and don’t give up on finding ways to help bats!

  2. You will probably think I am over imbibing but here goes….do you actually use tequila in the feeder to attract the bats. I have many feeders throughout our yard but they are strictly sugar syrup. what do you suggest I do to attract bats?

  3. Can the bats be inoculated from the white nose fungus by being exposed to it and then nursed back to health? When my horses got ringworm, I treated them with captan. Once they recovered, they were immune to catching ringworm again.

    Could the banana-ripening-inhibiting bacteria be applied to bats entering a cave by a motion-activated mister located at a cave entrance?

    Does light or heat kill the fungus? Could a bat hibernation site be cleaned with light or heat before they settle in for the winter?

    1. Hi Cynthia, Thank you for the great questions! These are exactly the kinds of things that the researchers are looking into, but it will take more time to gather the data to be certain which things work and which don’t.

  4. What GREAT news to hear that something is close to stopping this tragidy. Bats are so necessary. I live in Bella Vista AR. Are that any programs on this research near me?