White-nose Syndrome, a fungus that is deadly to bats, causes a tell-tale white muzzle on affected bats.
Al Hicks, NYSDEC
Bat- the mere mention might conjure up images of bloodthirsty creatures flying in the night and getting in your hair. However, bats are currently facing a problem worse than persistent myths and years of poor public relations. You might wonder why the demise of bats should be your concern, and it helps to understand exactly what role bats play in our ecosystem.
Role of Bats
Bats play a role in pollination, seed dispersal, and of course eating millions of insects. Over two-thirds of all bat species eat insects. The little brown bat, a common canyon bat, eats up to 1,000 insects per hour. Just under one-third of all bat species feed on plant nectar or fruit. All this nosing up to plants results in pollination and seed dispersal, allowing plant communities to regenerate. About one-percent of bats eat small vertebrates such as fish, mice and frogs. Vampire bats do exist but the three species are only found in Latin America.
What's Happening to Bats?
Over one million bats have died in the past three years. Scientists have been working hard to find out what is happening, but so far no one fully understands the cause of death or how to prevent further outbreaks. The problem was first identified in New York State in 2006, and continues to spread state by state, with the most recent case confirmed April 2011, in Kentucky. The ailment is simply known as White-nose Syndrome.
The number one symptom is a white fungus growing on the bat's nose which could also be on the wings, ears and tail. The fungus, Geomyces destructans usually appears on bats during winter hibernation. Infected bats are irritated by the fungus, awakening too early. The cold of winter, lack of insects to eat, combined with the energy stores used up by bats seeking food result in a deadly combination.
Bats in American Fork Canyon
Bat monitoring will continue in the canyon this summer, resulting in three years of baseline data on our local species. So far, White-nose Syndrome has not reached Utah, and canyon bats are in good health. Caution is still advised, as there is no cure and the mode of transmission is still not fully understood. To prevent unintentional spreading of the fungus, visitors to Timpanogos Cave will be asked if they are wearing boots, clothing or carrying any gear that was taken into any cave or mine at any time. Decontamination options will be discussed with any visitors affected.
How to Help
Educate yourself and others on the benefits of bats, and on the latest news about White-nose Syndrome. Do not handle bats that appear to be infected. Report the location of these bats to your state wildlife agency. Respect cave/mine closures. Decontaminate all boots, clothing and gear used immediately after caving or exploring mines.
Where to Learn More