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Allegheny Outdoor Adventures Bradford, PA


Jan 1 2008

Attention Cavers! Bat White Nose Syndrome warning

By John Stoneman

"White Nose Syndrome" Disease Killing Bats In North Eastern States
Western Pennsylvania, January 1, 2008 (AOA) - State environmental officials, Federal officials and caving organizations are asking people not to enter caves or mines with known bat populations until further notice, to avoid the possible transfer of a new bat infection from cave to cave.

Hibernating bats in New York and Vermont are dying in caves from unknown causes, prompting an investigation by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, DEC, as well as wildlife agencies and researchers around the country.

The white of the "white nose syndrome" was identified by DOH as a genus of fungi (Fusarium) that is common in the environment, and is typically associated with plants. It was associated with (but perhaps not the cause) of large scale mortality events.

"White Nose Syndrome", or WNS, or the fungus is believed to be associated with the problem, but it may not contribute to the actual cause of death. It appears so far, that the impacted bats die because they deplete their fat reserves before they would emerge from hibernation.

There are bat researchers, laboratories, and caving groups across the country working to understand the cause of the problem.

Some believe the bats may be susceptible to the fungal infection because they my be unduly stressed. The infection may be a secondary symptom.

Until further notice, cavers are asked to stay out of caves that contain bats. IF you enter a cave with bats, please decontaminate ALL your equipment in a chlorine bleach solution.

Also report any and all dead bats you may find or see. You may want to photograph them, but DO NOT TOUCH them!

The fungus, Fusarium is a common infestation that tomato plants get, and so far seems to not be a danger to humans. BUT it's believed that humans can carry the spores from cave to cave and infect new bat populations.

PLEASE DO YOUR PART AND REFRAIN FROM CAVING IN CAVES WITH BATS!

AND DISINFECT YOUR GEAR BETWEEN ANY CAVE TRIP!

Copyright John V Stoneman (JVS) 2008. All rights reserved.


My best Guesses as to the cause of WNS

After a few weeks of searching the internet for the most updated information on WNS or White Nose Syndrome that is effecting bats in the north east, in particular upstate New York and Vermont, I thought I'd report my observations.

I check some bat message boards daily, that have the latest info available.

Here are some of my observations.

First, I'm surprised that with all the bat experts and wildlife biologists working on the problem, there seems to be no consensus as to what caused this "disease" or "infection". Actually, it's unclear what to call it!

Even the top researchers in the country can only venture a guess as to what the original cause is. Those bold enough to suggest a cause are instantly "jumped on" by the other researchers.

SO, since it's still anybody's guess as to what causes WNS, or the bats to die prematurely, here are my "top three guesses" at this point, deduced from the "evidence'" that is available to me at this point in time.

The first question I asked myself is "what changed" or "what is different" in these past two years that could possibly effect the hibernating bats.

My first guess as to the cause of WNS is the weather! I'm not the only one to suggest this, there is a researcher, a Dr. Stone who also believes this to be the cause.

Our last three winters, actually have been warmer than normal. We actually had freakishly warm or HOT spells in December, January and February of the last three winters.

Last year on December 17th I got some great shots of a bat flying around in a gazebo along a hiking trail (Marilla Springs Trail in Bradford). It was the second or third day of a very warm spell. And there were bugs out! Little black gnats or maybe newly hatched mosquitoes. The bat was feeding on the bugs.

It's my belief that the bats are drawn out of the caves by the sound of the bugs. When there are bugs to eat, there are bats to eat them!

I agree with Dr. Stone and my first guess is that the unusually warm winters are responsible for the bats waking early and not being able to force their bodies into hibernation.

Also, the freakishly warm weather can, or does change the air flow in some of the caves, and perhaps the bats put themselves into a traditionally cold area of the cave that is now too warm to force hibernation.

Maybe one more thing we can blame on Global Warming (IF you believe in it!).

My second guess as to the cause of WNS, is a little more "out there". But bear with me! In the past few years there has been an explosion of the use of windmills. Especially with the "mother earther types" in New England. Not only is there an increase in "commercial", large windmills or windmill farms all over, but there are affordable, smaller, family or private windmills available.

I wonder if perhaps the windmills (big or small) don't emit a sound in the frequency range of the bugs the bats feed on so that the bats are confused and think (in addition to warmer winters and air currents in caves) that there is food out there! Maybe a primary "buzz" sound from the motors or it may be a harmonic of the primary sound that is waking the bats and luring them out of the caves looking for food.

This may sound far fetched, but it may be a real possibility, and it's my second choice for a cause!

My third is more of a political "hot potato" than the first two.

In our area the one thing that has changed drastically in the past few years, is the drilling of new or restarting of old oil and gas wells. I did some research and found that there is oil and gas well activity in upper NY and Vermont. My guess would be that drilling or "fracking" oil and gas wells, in the bedrock in close proximity of caves will disturb the hibernating bats.

The drilling action through bed rock must cause a lot of noise, that travels through the rock or through the tectonic cracks in the rock. How many miles can this sound travel in rocks? Will the drilling near caves effect hibernating bats?

Also consider that the warmer air flows in the caves, might put the bats in a "lesser" deep hibernation (if there is such a state) and be more susceptible to being bothered by traveling sounds in the rock caused by drilling.

This is my third guess as to the cause, but if WNS is found in our area, and in our local bat populations (north west PA) then I may bump this up to my second or even first guess as to the cause.

There is also the cause of WNS is caused by a combination of different effects.

There is another possible cause floating around the internet that I should probably mention. One group suggested that GM (genetically manipulated) crops grown in the areas, caused a mutation of the insects that eat the GM crops, and eating the mutated insects compromised the immune systems of the bats making them susceptible to getting infected with WNS.

This theory was "debunked" by most of the scientific community. Posts on this subject was even removed from the BCMI (Bat Conservation and Management) message board.

If I were offering my "top four" I might consider this GM crop thing or maybe more believable, a pesticide or herbicide connection ... but I'll stick to just my "top three":

1. Unusually warm winters.
2. Windmill related "buzzing" fooling the bats.
3. Increased oil and gas well activity shaking the caves.

I wish the researchers good luck. Only time will tell what the cause of WNS really is IF they can come to a consensus.

In the mean time, looks like we will not be caving any time soon ... except for the smaller "open" caves that have no bat populations.

John "Stony" Stoneman

Jan 1 2008

Bats! White Nose Syndrome

Unexplained "White Nose" Disease Killing Northeast Bats
ALBANY, New York, January 31, 2008 (ENS) - State environmental officials and caving organizations are asking people not to enter caves or mines with bats until further notice to avoid the possible transfer of a mysterious new bat disease from cave to cave.

Thousands of hibernating bats are dying in caves in New York and Vermont from unknown causes, prompting an investigation by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, DEC, as well as wildlife agencies and researchers around the nation.

The most obvious symptom involved in the die-off is a white fungus encircling the noses of some, but not all, of the bats.

Bat with white nose syndrome (Photo courtesy West Virginia Association for Cave Studies)

Called "white nose syndrome," the fungus is believed to be associated with the problem, but it may not contribute to the actual cause of death. It appears that the impacted bats deplete their fat reserves months before they would normally emerge from hibernation, and die as a result.

"What we've seen so far is unprecedented," said Alan Hicks, DEC's bat specialist. "Most bat researchers would agree that this is the gravest threat to bats they have ever seen."

Last year, some 8,000 to 11,000 bats died at several locations in New York, the largest die-off of bats due to disease documented in North America. This year, an unknown number of bats are at risk.

"We have bat researchers, laboratories and caving groups across the country working to understand the cause of the problem and ways to contain it," said Hicks. "Until we know more, we are asking people to stay away from known bat caves."

Craig Stihler, a bat specialist with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, says, "The fungus has been identified to the genus Fusarium, a common and widespread genus usually associated with plants. Pathologists that have examined the carcasses recovered from the New York sites do not believe the fungus is the main culprit. One guess at this time is that the fungus invades after the bats are stressed by some other factor."

Bat biologists across the country are evaluating strategies to monitor the presence of the disease and collect specimens for laboratory analysis. Biologists are using sanitary clothing and respirators when entering caves to avoid spreading the disease in the process.

"Our primary concern is to limit the disease from spreading further to other caves and mines that have larger numbers of hibernating bats," said Scott Darling, Vermont state wildlife biologist. "Here in Vermont, the disease has been documented in Morris Cave in Danby, and we will be checking other caves and mines."

Bat populations are particularly vulnerable during hibernation as they congregate in large numbers in caves - in clusters of 300 per square foot in some locations - making them susceptible to disturbance or disease.

Because these bats then migrate as far as hundreds of miles to their summer range, impacts to hibernating bats can have significant implications for bats throughout the Northeast.

"Bats from a cave in Dorset, Vermont have been documented traveling in the spring as far as Rhode Island and Cape Cod," says Darling.

The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of bats known to hibernate in New York do so in just five caves and mines. Because bats migrate as far as hundreds of miles to their summer range, impacts to hibernating bats can have significant implications for bats throughout the Northeast.

Indiana bats, a state and federally endangered species, are perhaps the most vulnerable. Half the estimated 52,000 Indiana bats that hibernate in New York are located in just one former mine - a mine that is now infected with white nose syndrome.

Eastern pipistrelle, northern long-eared and little brown bats are also dying. Little brown bats, the most common hibernating species in the state, have sustained the largest number of deaths.

DEC has been working closely with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Northeast Cave Conservancy and the National Speleological Society, along with other researchers from universities and other government agencies.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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