If a witness were to enter the abandoned mines of near Ontario, Canada, they would find themselves confronted by what appears to be a lumpy carpet blanketing the entire entrance on into the distance where the flashlight beam barely penetrates the obsidian darkness ahead. Upon closer inspection, they would find that the carpet was not of manmade origin, but rather composed of millions and millions of dead bats.
The cause appears to be a deadly fungus that is sweeping through Canada like an apocalyptic horseman killing all bats in its path. In ten years it’s estimated bats will no longer exist in Canada, and it may be spreading.
The disease is known as “White Nose syndrome” and it’s the single greatest killer of natural wildlife in North America. It’s killed an estimated four million bats so far, and the worst part is it only started appearing four years ago. If the fungus’ prolific nature doesn’t decline in its proliferation. The most important aspect, some are saying, is the potential vacuum the bats would leave for insects if they disappeared. Bats eat, on average, forty grams of insects every day. Forty grams per day may not seem like much, but considering each mosquito is on average 12 milligrams a piece, that means around 3,300 mosquitoes bite their last each day. An additional staggering fact: each bat can eat almost three million mosquitoes per year. Four million bats being killed by this virus result in 530 tons of mosquito flying around and sucking blood rather than being used to fertilize crops. The loss of the bat would be a most unfortunate development.
It all began in winter of 2007 when reports of daytime bats flying around in the dead of winter began pouring in to biological research firms. Bats, normally nocturnal creatures, are averted to light because it interacts with their ability to sense and interact with their surroundings. “When we first encountered this, we thought, ‘maybe it’s not going to be as bad as it looks,’” Al Hicks, a leader of research at ground zero for the infections said, “Them we started thinking, ‘Maybe we’ll be able to secure our largest sites.’ Then it was, ‘Maybe we can save our smallest sites.’” Mr. Hicks went on to say that the goal now was to collect enough specimens so that the species didn’t go extinct.
While it does seem grim for bat populations, it has been noted that European bats, for whatever reason, are somehow immune to the effects of WNS (white nose syndrome) and perhaps may hold the key to reviving the ailing North American bat populations. Researchers are still scrambling to find a way to bring the bat populations back from the brink of extinction, but other researchers say hope is dwindling as the creatures are not adapting well to the WNS fungus. What does the future hold for the North American brown bat? Where did this mysterious fungus come from? These are two questions on a long list yet unanswered.