White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a fungal infection caused by the Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) fungus. This fungus is wreaking havoc on bat populations across North America. It is a fungus that that grows on the bare skin of inactive, hibernating bats. It is able to grow during these times because it requires the inactivity in order to take hold and grow. In appearance, it looks like a white fuzz on the face and ears of the infected bats.
Where is it found and what does it do to the bats?
This fungus thrives in the caves that the bats call home because it prefers an environment that is cold, dark, and damp. It elicits a change in the bat’s behavior that causes them to act in ways that are unnatural and detrimental to their health. It will cause them to do things like flying outside in the daytime during the winter months. This type of activity will cause them to burn the necessary fat stores that they need to survive the winter. This type of activity will cause them to get sick and die.
The epidemic effects of white-nose syndrome
Scientists had no idea that white-nose syndrome even existed until cave explorers photographed infected bats in caves just outside Albany, NY in 2006. Further, they did not see the effects of the fungus on bat populations until 2007. It was then that they observed sick and dying bats. Until that point, they were not even aware of this condition affecting bats.
It has been killing only certain species of bats in the United States and Canada including northern long-eared bats, little brown bats, and tri-colored bats. It has been found in other species, like the Virginia big-eared bat, but it is not killing them like it is the other three species. There is no cure and scientists are not sure where it came from, but they are doing research to learn as much as they can to save the bat species of North America.
What scientists do know
Research is being conducted all over the world to learn as much as possible. WNS has since been found in bats in Europe and Asia as well, but it is not killing them by the millions like it is in bats in North America. There is evidence of entire populations of bats in a given habitat being killed off by this fungus.
Scientists have also learned a lot about the spores themselves. They can survive a long time on clothing, shoes, and other outdoor gear and this is likely the way that it was brought to North America and how it has been introduced into different environments. They have also learned that it is not a fungus that is contracted by people.
It is spreading via bat to bat contact all over the United States and Canada. Scientists are experimenting with possible treatments and control methods to help the bats. They are looking into vaccines and habitat changes in order to save the bats.