Watch your nose: Understanding White-Nose Syndrome and the Bats of the North Cascades National Park, part 2
Photo taken by Alan Hicks. Retrieved from batcon.org
This is part two of my series on bats. You can find part one here.
On March 11, hikers found the sick bat about 30 miles east of Seattle near North Bend, and took it to Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) for care. The bat died two days later, and had visible symptoms of a skin infection common in bats with White Nose Syndrome. -U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Now that we know which bats live in the park and their ecological significance, we can dive into white-nose syndrome.
What is white-nose syndrome?
The first case of white-nose syndrome (WNS) in the U.S. occurred in February, 2006 in Albany, New York. Researchers documented a white substance around the muzzles, ears, and wings on both alive and dead bats in the Howes Cave. Upon further investigation it was discovered that the substance was a fungal growth of Pseudogymnoascus destructans (formerly Geomyces destructans). The fungus colonizes best on thinner outer tissue of bats (nose, ears, wings), eroding the skin and thriving off of inner-connective tissue. To date, it is thought that over six million bats have died to the syndrome in North America.
While the exact cause of death is uncertain, scientists hypothesize that the fungal growth disrupts their hibernating habits. Deceased bats with the syndrome have been reported with having significantly lower body weight compared to the population average at that time of year. When bats hibernate in cool, damp places over the winter P. destructans infects the bats. Whether awake or asleep, this added stress causes bats to use fat storage at a faster rate than normal. If a bat wakes up it will most likely not be able to find a food source at that time of year and die of starvation.