Brown bats from West Virginia are wearing a white mask, but not just for the costume holiday called Halloween in the US. Bats from Pendleton County are being tested for a fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS), a condition that has killed thousands of cave bats from several species on the east coast of US over this past year.
The cause of this white fungus seen on the muzzles, wings and ears of affected bats, is unknown. No one knows if the appearance of the fungus is the start of the infection or WNS, or it may be a secondary infection of bats that are stressed by some other factor. The WNS is a soil fungus. that grows in the cool, moist caves where many bats spend the winter.
Scientists have not identified the disease cycle for this fungus, but they have observed that the brown bats use up their fat reserves too quickly, and deplete their energy reserves too quickly. So when they should be hibernating the starving bats often fly can be seen foraging in freezing temperatures to find food that does not exist.
Bats are a vital link in the control of insect populations. The loss of large numbers of brown bats could cause mosquito and other troublesome insect numbers to rise.
Cautions exist for spelunkers (cavers). Prior to each caving outing, please check http://www.fws.gov/northeast/wnscavers.html for updates to these procedures and for cave closures.
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Excerpts courtesy of http://www.fws.gov/northeast/white_nose.html
Excerpts courtesy of http://www.fws.gov/northeast/wnscavers.html
Image courtesy of google images and http://tinyurl.com/ygent5x