The decision by federal wildlife managers underscores the extinction threat facing hundreds of thousands of species worldwide. The decline in bat populations in particular — partly due to a deadly disease, as well as other damage — threatens to upset ecosystems and harm farms that rely on voracious insectivores as pest control.
The culprit harming these bats is known as white-nose syndrome, a strange fungus first discovered about 15 years ago in a cave in upstate New York that has since spread across more than half of the bat’s range. Sick bats — with fuzzy growths on their noses — are found from the Atlantic coast to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where affected colonies have seen a decline of more than 90 percent.
Describing caves where he might see “dying bats crawling in the snow,” said Jonathan Richard, associate coordinator for the National White Nose Syndrome at the Fish and Wildlife Service, describing caves where he might see “dying bats.”
The tricolor bat in particular “has been in trouble for a long time,” said Beth Buckles, associate professor of biology at Cornell University who co-authored a major paper describing the disease. She thinks the decision is long overdue.
“It takes a while to get things on the list, and I understand,” she said. “But the bats are in really bad shape.”
No one knows exactly when or how white-nose syndrome appeared.
“We have always assumed that this is what we call human-mediated transmission,” said Jeremy Coleman, national coordinator for white-nose syndrome at the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Experts suggest that it could have arrived, for example, on a diving expedition box that made its trips from Europe or Asia.
But scientists are sure of mushrooms – dubbed False destroyers For its destructive nature – not from here. “We are very confident that North America is not a native fungus,” Coleman added.
With strong immune systems, bats can harbor many pathogens without getting sick—including, possiblyThe coronavirus is behind the epidemic in humans.
But the cold-loving fungi have evolved to attack the more vulnerable bats, during hibernation when they huddle together. Like a vampire, a fungus It works better in the dark. Despite its name, the disease can also crawl along the wings of bats, leaving pests behind, making it difficult for mammals to retain water.
“We call it white-nose syndrome, but the fungus spreads all over its wings,” Buckles said.
The tricolor bat gets its name from the alternating dark and light spots on its fur. In the warmer months, small mammals feed at night on beetles, moths, and other insects along the banks of rivers and at the edges of the forest. They find food in the cover of darkness by screeching an ultrasonic tone and listening for it to bounce back.
Small species, which can weigh less than a quarter, face threats beyond this disease. Changes in temperature and precipitation due to climate change can disturb the corpses and the search for food. Wind turbine blades can hit and kill animals.
But white nose syndrome remains by far the greatest danger.
Dozens of different species of bats are affected by white-nose syndrome. Federal officials Proposed earlier this year To list the northern long-eared bat as critically endangered. The agency is considering giving a third species, the little brown bat, federal protection as well.
The endangered Indiana bat was on its way to recovery before white-nose syndrome emerged, said Winifred Frick, chief scientist at the nonprofit Bat Conservation International.
“As we have all suffered during Covid, the real-time response to the disease is a real challenge,” she said. “It’s even more difficult when you’re talking about wildlife.”
The Endangered Species Act was passed nearly half a century ago, and it criminalizes people’s harassment of endangered animals. The law was crucial to reviving the population of gray wolves and other famous creatures in North America from poaching and habitat destruction.
But the agency acknowledges that imported diseases pose a different kind of threat. Researchers are now exploring a slew of new treatments — including antifungals, probiotics, UV rays, vaccines, and even genetic engineering — to fight the fungus without harming other species.
“We didn’t even know the disease was around 12 or so years ago,” Coleman said. “Coming up with these strategies for treating wildlife diseases is somewhat unprecedented.”