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article imagePlague Kills 90% of CT's Bats, Impact on National Ecology Feared

By Michael Krebs     Mar 20, 2009 in Environment
White-nose syndrome wiped out 90 per-cent of the bat population in Connecticut over the winter. The plague is currently racing across the country with the potential for devastating effects on the general ecology.
There is a mysterious plague raging through bat populations in the Northeast. It is known as white-nose syndrome, and its impact on Connecticut's bats has been dramatic - 90 per-cent of the state's bats were wiped out over the past four months.
Jenny Dickson, a wildlife biologist with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection has been inspecting caves throughout the state - and thousands of dead bats she has discovered have been alarming.
"It was grim, and you don't have to be a scientist to realize the implications for the environment inside those caves," said Dickson, in a report in the Hartford Courant. "This is a massive, unprecedented die-off, with significant potential impacts on nature, especially insect control."
The problem is not contained in one state. Connecticut's bats are migratory and come to hibernate in the state from neighboring mountain ranges in New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Scientists in those states have found mortality rates of 90-95%, approaching 100% in some instances.
"All told, scientists following white-nose syndrome have calculated that up to a million bats have already died in the Northeast states," reported the Hartford Courant.
Bats eat a significant number of mosquitoes and moths, averaging 3,000 per bat nightly. Without the natural culling the bats provide, scientists are concerned about the affects a notably larger mosquito population will have on human health - and on the agricultural industries that benefit from less moth larva.
As reported in the Courant, ecologist and bat expert, Merlin Tuttle, said, "The number of bats that have died so far, which is probably over a million now, will be dwarfed by what is going to happen in the next few years."
"Virginia is right on the border of perhaps the biggest bat hibernation areas in the world — Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky — where there are caves with such large populations of bats we can't even measure how many millions are in there. They spread from this area across vast ranges of the agricultural South. Mortality rates like those we are seeing in the states already hit by [white-nose syndrome] would be devastating for the national bat population," he said.
More about Bats, Plague, White nose syndrome, Insects, Ecology
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