About a year ago wildlife biologists discovered the first signs in Connecticut of a mysterious disease that can kill bats. The Department of Environmental Protection announced today bats have been dying this year at unprecedented rates.
D.E.P. Wildlife biologist Jenny Dickson has been surveying two caves in Litchfield County this winter. She’s tracking mortality rates of bats who have been sickened with white nose syndrome.Their noses, eyes and ears are coated with a white fungus. Healthy bats hibernate throughout the winter. But bats with “white-nose syndrome” fly around hungry looking for food. They eventually die. In one cave Dickson found 83 % of the bats had died. In another 90 %. Dickson says the bat population in that cave dropped from 3000 last year to 300 this year.
“There were a number of places where the bats were either laying dead on flat surfaces within the caves, in some cases bodies stacked upon bodies, fungus growing on most of those species. You could see fungus very visible on wings and things like that. It was a gruesome site.”
Although scientists have identified the fungus they still don’t know if it is the cause of the disease or a symptom. Jenny Dickson says she expects mortality rates will climb higher before hibernation season ends.
“Even though we are at 90% now I think those rates could go up.. probably by another 2 or 3 % by the end of winter. So it’s not looking good for our bats.”
Just this year the condition spread from New England and New York to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and southern Virginia. Dickson says that distance indicates humans may be spreading the disease.
“We may be able to play a role in moving it from place to place and that’s something we really need to avoid.”
The Department of Environmental Protection. is asking the public to notify the agency if they observe any unusual bat behavior such as seeing bats flying outside of caves in the next few weeks.