Wednesday, November 30, 2022
New listing as endangered species might help save the northern long-eared bat, victim of a fungus that wakes it up
|A northern long-eared bat (Photo from the Wisconsin
Department of Natural Resources via The Associated Press)
Efforts to save the northern long-eared bat from extinction have received a boost of hope: “The Biden administration declared the northern long-eared bat endangered on Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to save a species driven to the brink of extinction by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease,” reports John Flesher of The Associated Press.
Martha Williams, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told Flesher, “White-nose syndrome is decimating cave-dwelling bat species like the northern long-eared bat at unprecedented rates.”
Since its discovery in a New York cave in 2006, the fungus has spread rapidly in the U.S. “The northern long-eared bat is among the hardest hit, with estimated declines of 97% or higher in affected populations,” AP reports. “The bat is found in 37 eastern and north-central states . . . and much of Canada. The disease has infected 12 types of bats and killed millions.”
Why should we care? “Bats are believed to give U.S. agriculture an annual boost of $3 billion by gobbling pests and pollinating some plants,” AP notes. “Recovery efforts will focus on wooded areas where the bats roost in summer — usually alone or in small groups, nestling beneath bark or in tree cavities and crevices. Emerging at dusk, they feed on moths, beetles and other insects.”
Research for a vaccine is ongoing, “The service has distributed more than $46 million for the campaign, which involves around 150 agencies, private organizations and Native American tribes,” AP reports. Ryan Shannon, senior attorney with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, told Flesher, “We have to find a cure for white-nose syndrome that is killing our bats and we have to protect the forests where they live. This endangered listing will help on both counts.”
The fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, appears as a white fuzz that grows on muzzles and wings of hibernating bats. While hibernating, the fungus drains the bat’s precious energy stores, disrupting their hibernation cycle. They wake up, have little or no insects to eat, and often starve.