2008 Archives

These accounts have been selected to provide the best available overall portrait of an evolving situation. Included are many first hand accounts from affected sites. Please note that some information may be dated and that media accounts rarely provide full, or always accurate, technical information.


White-nose Syndrome Threatens Bats
Author: Cohn, Jeffrey P.
Source: BioScience, Volume 58, Number 11, December 2008 , pp. 1098-1098(1)
Publisher: American Institute of Biological Sciences
A concise summary of WNS and research to date. free pdf download


Experts Identify Fungus Suspected In Bat Die-Off

by Dan Charles

Morning Edition, October 31, 2008 In the northeastern United States, bats have been dying by the thousands, struck down by a strange ailment called "white-nose syndrome." A mysterious, fuzzy white fungus appears on the noses and skin of afflicted hibernating bats, which then often starve to death.

Alan Hicks, a bat specialist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, alerted the world to white-nose syndrome in early 2007 after hearing reports of dead bats in caves near Albany.

Now, researchers have identified the mold they consider a possible cause of the disease, reporting their findings Thursday in the online edition of the journal Science. It's a fragile, unusual form of Geomyces fungi, which usually live in cold places such as Antarctica, says David Blehert, lead author of the study. He's head of diagnostic microbiology at the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis.

Blehert can't say for certain that the fungus is killing the bats. "Fungi usually don't kill otherwise healthy animals all on their own," he explains. He says the infection may make a bat wake up too often during hibernation, so that it burns up its reserves of fat too quickly.

A Fragile Fungus

Blehert's lab got involved in the research about a year ago, after Hicks had collected ailing bats with the syndrome and taken them to Melissa Behr, an animal disease specialist at the New York State Department of Health. She couldn't figure out what the problem was.

Hicks "would bring a bunch of bats, and we would triage them over the course of the evening, and I would wonder where the white stuff had gone," Behr said.

The white material was so fragile that it disappeared at the slightest touch. So she moved her operation closer to the bats: inside two abandoned mines.

"I got so I could grab a little bat, stabilize his little head, grab the fungus and put it on a slide," Behr said.

The slides went under a microscope. Behr took photos and sent them to experts such as Blehert, who said, "The mission of my lab suddenly became: What is this white stuff?"

No one had ever seen a fungus like this one. But Blehert and his colleagues retrieved sections of its genetic code and found that it resembled DNA of other cold-loving fungi. The fungus found on the noses, ears, wings and skin of the infected bats flourishes at temperatures between 41 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Seeking Clues To Syndrome's Source

Now that scientists have a sample of the fungus's genetic code, they can test for it in other places. They want to know its source, because that might provide a clue to how the epidemic started. Right now, they think something maybe a person, maybe an animal carried a trace of this fungus into Howes Cave in upstate New York, 30 miles west of Albany.

That's where someone first took a picture of a white-nosed bat in February 2006. The following year, Blehert said, bats were found dying in five caves all within 10 miles of Howes Cave. "And by last winter, it was present at 33 sites, out to a 210-kilometer radius," he said.

Hicks, the bat specialist, went looking for evidence of the ailment again this week along with reporter Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio in an abandoned iron mine near Port Henry, a village in northeastern New York.

The bats were just settling in for the winter, squealing softly. Hicks collected a few, dropping them into paper lunch bags after checking for marks of the epidemic. Good news: There was no sign of white fuzz.

But the bats are getting wiped out completely in some caves nearby. "I'll be surprised if some of the sites we visited last year aren't at zero, or very near zero, this winter," he whispered to avoid disturbing the bats.

In two sites that scientists have monitored most closely, 78 percent and 97 percent of the bats have died. Nobody knows where the plague will end.


Nasty fungus may be killing thousands of bats
Thu Oct 30, 2008 4:29pm EDT
By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A previously unknown fungus that thrives in chilly temperatures may be the culprit behind the deaths of at least 100,000 bats hibernating in caves in the northeastern United States, scientists said on Thursday.

The fungus is a white, powdery-looking organism found on the muzzles, ears and wings of dead and dying bats hibernating in caves in New York state, Maine, Vermont and Connecticut in the past two years, they wrote in the journal Science.

"Essentially, hibernating bats are getting moldy as they hang from their cave ceiling," David Blehert, a microbiologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who led the study, said in a telephone interview.

"It's decimating the cave-bat populations," he said.

Bats play a vital role in keeping down insect populations, pollinating plants and spreading around plant seeds.

The disease is affecting all six species of hibernating cave bats in the northeastern United States -- little brown bats, big brown bats, northern bats, tricolored bats, Indiana bats and the small-footed myotis, Blehert said.

Bat Death Mystery Solved
By Jeanna Bryner, Senior Writer
posted: 30 October 2008 02:04 pm ET

Bats are getting moldy and dying, and this is no Halloween trick. Now scientists have identified the culprit in the deadly mystery.

The killer is a member of a group of cold-loving fungi called Geomyces. This white, powdery-looking fungus coats the muzzles, ears and wings of bats and has meant death for more than 100,000 of the night flyers in the northeastern United States.

"So essentially these bats are hanging on the cave ceiling almost like a piece of food that you've forgotten about in your refrigerator and for whatever reason now they're getting moldy," microbiologist David Blehert of the U.S. Geological Survey told LiveScience.

A big question remains: Why has this murder mystery only surfaced recently?

The fungi live in the soil, water and air, and now on bat skin. They can survive refrigerator-level temperatures, which are typical of many caves where bats hibernate. Once beneath the outer layer of skin covering a bat's wing, the fungus multiplies, sometimes causing the wing to bulge to five to 10 times its original thickness.

The researchers are not sure if the fungus is the sole exterminator of infected bats. Most of the fungus-infected bats are also emaciated and some leave their caves during the cold of winter in search of insect food, in vain. The fungus could be the cause of starvation or it could have invaded the skin of starving bats whose immune systems would have been depressed, the researchers speculate.

Researcher studies bat hibernation for clues to white-nose syndrome

Biologist DeeAnn Reeder is investigating white-nose syndrome.
Posted: September 18, 2008

LEWISBURG, Pa. -- Tucked in a basement laboratory at Bucknell University, a colony of little brown bats is getting ready to hibernate, and researchers are taking note.

The bats will be housed in a simulated cave this winter as part of a several multi-state research projects to learn more about white-nose syndrome, a mysterious condition that is killing bats throughout the northeastern United States.

DeeAnn Reeder, an ecophysiologist and assistant professor of biology at Bucknell, will study hibernation patterns in the usually resilient little brown bat, one of the most common bat species in the United States. State and federal officials and other academic researchers are studying different aspects of the syndrome, which gets its name from the white fungus found on many ailing bats.

Mysterious bat deaths under study

Hicks was replicating an earlier study done years ago by Thomas Kunz, the director of the Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology at Boston University. The data his team gathers will be compared to data about bats in other affected sites in the Northeast, to data about bats in control sites in Kentucky and Pennsylvania where no trace of white-nose syndrome has been found, and to the bats in Kunzs original study.

Sunday, September 28, 2008
By Sara Foss
Schenectady Daily Gazette Reporter

HAGUE Nancy Heaslip kneels at the mouth of an entrance to an old graphite mine, waiting for the little brown bats.

She doesnt have to wait long. They are plentiful tonight, emerging from the mine and fluttering about in the night sky. Occasionally one or two of them flies into a harmless trap positioned about 10 feet from the mine entrance, and Heaslip scoops them up and stuffs them in brown paper lunch bags. The time of capture is written on the bags in black pen.

A Disturbing Unknown: When Will We Learn What is Troubling the Northeast's Bats?

One of the largest obstacles bats -- and their wildlife managers -- still must face is the lack of funding available to get the job done. Insufficient funding to manage non-hunted species has been a problem for decades. Although there is great cooperation among agencies and research institutions, a lack of funding has limited investigations into WNS. The problem is wildlife management dollars are always limited -- more so now than ever -- and agency budgets simply can't handle much more than routine management.
"It's not that wildlife management agencies aren't concerned," explained Calvin W. DuBrock, Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Management director. "Their budgets just aren't equipped to handle unexpected expenses and threats of this magnitude. Pennsylvania, like many of our neighboring states, is doing everything it can -- within reason and budgetary restrictions -- but if things get worse, we'll be hard-pressed to ramp up our efforts. The public can help by making donations."

Sept. 2, 2008
HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept 02, 2008 /PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Pennsylvania Game Commission bat biologists still have not found evidence that White-Nose Syndrome -- responsible for killing tens of thousands of cave bats in New York and New England -- has reached Pennsylvania. But, the deadly disorder is expected to once again turn the world of bats upside-down in the Northeast this winter.
Wildlife officials say that white-nose syndrome (WNS) is as mysterious today as when it first surfaced in a cave near Albany, New York, in 2006. Despite the coordinated efforts of an incredibly talented team of more than two dozen wildlife agencies, universities and institutions, WNS continues to baffle researchers who are trying to unravel the tangled mess cave bats now find themselves in. There are plenty of clues and few conclusions.
"We still don't know what causes WNS, where it came from, or if we can stop its spread to other states," said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. "But, the Game Commission is committed to finding answers that will help wildlife managers better understand WNS and hopefully find ways to limit its impact."

While lab scientists such as Buckles and Stone continue to pursue the fungal clues, field biologists like Darling are keeping tabs on the health of the bats, hoping to have a better sense of the animals' condition when they enter hibernation this fall. By Darling's count, more than 25 agencies and institutions are contributing to the effort.

They may not all see eye to eye on which angles to pursue, but nearly everyone agrees the syndrome could be disastrous to the bat population. Bats can live up to 30 years, and females give birth to just one pup per year. At that rate, it could take a very long time for a broken bat population to recover.

Dark night for bats

New theories about what's wiping out huge populations of the tiny winged mammal point to pesticides and climate change.

By Kirsten Weir

Aug. 1, 2008 | HINESBURG, Vt. -- As dusk settles over the forest, the mosquitoes start swarming in force. Scott Darling, a biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, unfurls a net across a wide path. Not five minutes later, the first bat of the night lands in the net with a sudden thwoomp. The tiny winged creature bares its pointy teeth and begins to chirp, the angry staccato squeaks ringing out like Morse code.

Darling uses the dull point of a pencil to gently pry the net away from the entangled bat. Later, he will examine the bat for signs of disease, weigh it (7 grams, slightly more than a pair of pennies), tag it and set it free. Then he'll discard his latex gloves, slather hand sanitizer on his skin and disinfect his equipment, even dousing the pencil he used to free the bat from the net. This last bit -- the latex gloves, the disinfectant -- is still a new practice, a cautionary protocol courtesy of white-nose syndrome (WNS), a mysterious new illness causing bats in the Northeast to waste away as they hibernate.

Wing damage

The mysterious death of bats has continued this summer, but researchers are closing in on a cause
By Beth Daley
Boston Globe Staff / July 28, 2008

After a series of provocative discoveries in recent months, scientists believe bats in the Northeast might be in greater peril from a mysterious sickness than originally thought.

Researchers now think that a fuzzy white fungus found on thousands of dead and dying bats in New England and New York last winter might be the primary cause of the illness. Scientists have learned that the unidentified fungus seems to thrive in the cold temperatures found in caves and mines in winter - when bats are hibernating and most vulnerable.

As worrisome is that many bats continued to die this spring, dashing hopes that they would recuperate when they emerged from hibernation and resumed feeding. Hundreds of animals with scarred wings, both dead and alive, were discovered in Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire through June. The wing damage can kill bats and likely was caused by the fungus, researchers say.

Biologists are also growing increasingly concerned that the fungus may be spreading to tens of thousands of healthy bats as the animals huddle together while sleeping in their summer roosts.

Humans are not believed to be at risk from the illness, but a large die-off would likely affect people indirectly. The nocturnal mammals eat enormous amounts of crop-infesting and human-biting insects, and scientists say they know so little about bats that their ecological importance may become apparent only once they disappear.

"We could be at the beginning of something much uglier," said Paul Cryan, a bat specialist with the United States Geological Survey in Colorado. He said researchers are beginning to realize that even if they identify a definite cause, it may be too late for thousands of bats. "What do we do then? We are thinking ahead to the spread of it."

The disease was first seen two winters ago, when thousands of bats died in four New York caves within seven miles of each other. Many of the bats had an unusual white fungus on their bodies. By last winter, 25 caves and mines spread across 135 miles were found to have sick or dying bats in Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and New York. Pennsylvania bats may also be affected.

Scientists originally dubbed the sickness "white nose syndrome" because of the fungus but believed it to be a secondary problem, one that grew on the bats when they were weakened by something else. That's because fungi are rarely fatal by themselves.

But a meticulous search for another pathogen using cutting edge technology has come up short. While researchers say they are not ruling out other causes, such as something in the environment, a recent discovery that the fungus grows best in cold temperatures is training their attention back to it.

Bats' immune systems appear to shut down when they are in deep hibernation, likely to conserve energy and because the parasites, bacteria, and viruses that would attack them are not normally active in the cold either. If a fungus exists in the caves that thrives in cold conditions, it could overtake the bats before their immune system has a chance to respond.

Scientists' hypothesize that the bats could be waking up in the winter from the fungus - either to jumpstart their immune systems or simply to groom themselves. Under either scenario, the bats would burn up enormous amounts of fat reserves they need to survive the winter. That may be why so many skinny bats were seen dying on cave floors this past winter or flying into and out of mines in a futile search for food.

"The attention has narrowed and focused on the fungus," said Vishnu Chaturvedi, director of the Mycology Laboratory at the New York State Department of Health and part of a team that discovered the cold-loving fungus. He said it will take time before scientists know for sure what is going on - and longer to find a solution - but "we're getting a number of clues."

Some scientists are growing discouraged that they will find the answers in time. Some caves struck hard by the illness have lost 97 percent of their bat populations. A bat researcher monitoring a summer roost in New Hampshire estimates that about 25 percent of his colony is gone, likely from the bat sickness.

Worries intensified this spring when researchers discovered bats with inflexible, scarred wings, likely from the fungus. Wings make up more than 75 percent of a bat's surface area and are critical for flying as well as for blood flow and to enable the animals to exchange heat, gas, and water with the air. If the wings are too damaged, the animal can die.

"We thought if they made it through the winter they would be good to go, but that does not appear to be the case," said Jon Reichard, a Boston University graduate student who is monitoring two summer bat roosts in Massachusetts and New Hampshire where he has found hundreds of bats with damaged wings.

Scientists are beginning to study whether bats might be harboring dormant fungal spores in summer roosts, increasing the risk of transmission.

This is a frightening scenario: Bats migrate as far as 250 miles from their winter hibernating sites to their summer roosts, where they mix with bats from other far-off caves and mines. In the fall, they will travel back to their hibernation sites to mingle and mate with still other bats. If new bats are infected, the fungus could begin to grow on them as soon as temperatures dip low enough.

"This condition represents a grave threat to (bats in) the northeastern US," said David Blehert, director of diagnostic microbiology at the US Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin.


Updated Post from the Northeast Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

This summer, people are reporting dead and dying little brown bats at their summer roosts in attics, barns and other outbuildings in the four states with confirmed white-nose syndrome and in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, neither of which have confirmed white-nose syndrome in winter hibernacula. While doing surveys of forested areas, biologists have also caught bats with abnormal wing tissues, including white spots, holes and tears. We are also seeing a higher than usual number of pups falling and dying. We do not know if these summer bat deaths are directly caused by white-nose syndrome or if the bats are weakened from fighting off white-nose syndrome in the winter hibernacula and have not been able to recuperate.

The bat conservation community is concerned and involved in exploring the possible cause of the disease and raising funds to assist in the research. National and regional caving organizations are coordinating with state biologists to help assess the situation, providing the most current information to the caving community regarding advisories, and documenting cave visitations to determine if cavers could be spreading the cause of the outbreak.

Wing-Damage Index Used for Characterizing Wing Condition of Bats Affected by White-nose Syndrome by Jonathan D. Reichard, Boston University


It's hard to get a handle on bat numbers in the state this year. Dickson said factors like the weather can alter the number of bats out on a particular night. So can owls, whose hooting may cue bats to scatter rather than be prey.

But Dickson said the bats Krukar is catching this year are healthy -- with good weight, healthy wings and pregnant females.

"If there's a bright spot, it's that," Dickson said.

White-nose syndrome plagues bat population in Northeast
By Robert Miller
Danbury, CT Staff Writer
RIDGEFIELD -- Small, sharp-toothed and fiercely unhappy about his situation, the big brown bat did not rest easily in Geoff Krukar's hands Wednesday.

"I always wear gloves," Krukar said, watching the bat try to nip his fingers.

Unlike the bat, Krukar was in good spirits as the night settled into the woods. It was breezeless and clear -- good conditions for bats to be on the move.

"There are fireflies out," he said. "I don't know why, but it seems like the nights when there are fireflies out there are bats."

For the past 10 years, Krukar, a wildlife technician for the state Department of Environmental Protection, has spent summer nights studying the state's bat population, catching them in mist nets, checking their numbers and health, banding them and releasing them back into the wild.

He's on a special mission this year, looking for a rare species, the Indiana bat, at Bennett's Pond State Park in Ridgefield and Collis P. Huntington State Park in Redding.

But his efforts have been altered by the onset of a confounding disease, white-nose syndrome, which has killed hundreds of thousands of bats in the caves where they hibernate in winter. The first ominous signs of the disease turned up in Connecticut bats this winter.

As they collect data, Hicks and the other researchers around the country are constantly in touch. In Wisconsin, Blehert said white-nose researchers have been making "good progress." But even if researchers key in on a culprit this summer, signs point to another rough winter. Identifying the cause of the problem does not mean they can stop it.

Butchkoski in Pennsylvania said he expects white nose to spread to his state this winter. Hicks does too. On a recent night patrol, Hicks waves off a suggestion that the worst is over for bats.

Researchers urgently probe mystery of dying bats
By MICHAEL HILL | Associated Press Writer
July 19, 2008

WEST SAND LAKE, N.Y. - As the sun drops, bats that survived a catastrophic winter begin to flutter by the treetops to feed. Al Hicks gets into a car to count them.

He drives a jury-rigged batmobile, a state-issue SUV with a high-frequency microphone stuck on top. Hicks, a state wildlife biologist, uses it to tally a species in danger of decimation from a mysterious affliction called white-nose syndrome. The setup detects and records bats' sonar signals as they swoop over rural roads near Albany in search of insects. Hicks interprets the sounds from his laptop's speaker as he navigates the darkened curves.

"Did you hear that? 'Zzzzzzzzzzzzz!' That's the feeding buzz. He's closing in on prey," Hicks says. Then the mike picks up another bat. "That's a searching phase, 'Dit, it, dit dit.' He's looking for dinner."

Northeast bat populations were ravaged this year as they hibernated, and Hicks is part of an alliance of scientists urgently trying to get a grip on the disaster before next winter. Researchers are watching the skies, counting bat breaths and cultivating fungus as they try to understand why so many seem to starve as they sleep for the winter.

"I'm deeply concerned. We're talking about something that's spread from two caves to five states in less than a year," said Merlin Tuttle, founder of Bat Conservation International in Austin, Texas. "It's the worst threat to bats we've ever seen in the history of bats."

Dying bats befuddle scientists
By Michael Risinit
The Journal News ΔΆ July 8, 2008

The bats never came home this year to their roost behind the shutters of a raised ranch in nearby Connecticut.

Jim Dreisacker, owner of Westchester Wildlife, a nuisance-wildlife removal company, went recently to place spacers behind the shutters and reposition them to eliminate the bats' cozy resting spot. The "couple of hundred" little brown bats who had spent summers behind the shutters weren't there.

"He had them every year for several years," Dreisacker said. "They never came back. There wasn't one bat under one shutter."

The only explanation Dreisacker could think of was "white-nose syndrome," a mysterious affliction killing tens of thousands of bats in the past two years across the Northeast. The cause of the bat mortality, which has been documented in about 20 bat hibernation caves in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut, remains unknown. Many of the dead bats were found with a white fungus dusting their muzzles, hence the name of the mystifying malady. The fungus is thought to be a symptom, not the cause of death.

Most of the deaths occurred in the winter as bats huddled in caves and mines, although Vermont wildlife officials are fielding daily phone calls about dead bats. The ailment interrupts hibernation and has dozens of scientists, wildlife researchers and others from across the country scrambling for answers.


Northeast bat population is in its own hell

Some surveys of summer bat colonies are underway, but the big effort will come this fall, Hicks says, when researchers will try to determine whether bats are arriving in caves already emaciated, or if something is rousting them during the time they should be hibernating, causing the burn-off of fat stores.

"The trend is just really bad," he says. "You go to a cave where you saw thousands of bats, now you see hundreds. If you see only a handful next year, then you are looking at their disappearance."

July 7, 2008
By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY

The deaths started in a few caves, with hibernating bats dying in place and falling in charnel heaps to the floor. Others, emaciated and starving, fled their roosts to freeze in the chill of winter.

Deepening the mystery: The dead and dying bats had a white fungus on their faces, giving the name "white-nose syndrome" to a plague killing thousands of bats in five Northeastern states.

"Our guys went in and reported thousands of dead bats," says Alan Hicks of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. "Immediately it was clear this was very bad."


A Race To Solve White-Nose Syndrome Fatal To Bats
By RINKER BUCK | Hartrford Courant Staff Writer July 6, 2008

BURLINGTON - The remote hardwood forests of the 450-acre Sessions Woods Wildlife Management Area are surprisingly busy on summer nights, with caravans of mountain bikers and joggers gliding past the beaver ponds until dusk.

"This spring, we were under the assumption that as soon as bats left their caves and found enough insects to eat, they would return to good health," said Scott Darling, the wildlife biologist heading up the white-nose efforts for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. "That assumption was wrong. Even now that it's summer, we are still getting reports of bats dying on front lawns and hanging to window screens.

"And the wings of the bats we are examining show significant scarring, tears, holes in the wings and crinkling from dehydration. The assumption is that this is dead tissue that couldn't heal after being coated with the white fungus."

But one recent weekday night, the group setting up their nets and high-frequency acoustical receivers near a large swamp in Sessions Woods didn't have recreation in mind. Jenny Dickson, Geoff Krukar and Christina Kocer are wildlife biologists with the state Department of Environmental Protection, the front line of the Connecticut team involved in a massive national effort to solve one of today's most urgent natural mysteries: What's killing our bats?

In early spring of 2007, wildlife biologists in the Northeast began observing alarming behavior in bats, the only flying mammal and one vital to ecology because adult bats can consume more than 4,000 mosquitoes a night. Emaciated and confused bats were prematurely leaving their winter caves in New York state and Vermont and falling into snowy backyards or desperately clinging to storm windows.


Mysterious Illness Killing Bats

"There's no smoking gun there, yet. Over 46 different species of fungi have been found and identified on the surface of bats but none of them are pathogenic," Kunz said.

Photographs from local caves show white fungus circling their noses.

"It is very, very frustrating and yet, you know, the challenge to try to determine what are the under lying causes -- there are multiple possible factor," Kunz said.

Scientists Worried About Deaths
July 1, 2008 WCVB Boston

BOSTON -- You may not consider bats cute and cuddly, but they do help us out. They help pollinate crops and control insect populations.

That's why scientists are so worried about a mysterious illness that's killing thousands of bats in the Northeast.

NewsCenter 5's David Brown reported Tuesday that walking up to the state's largest bat house, Boston University biologist Dr. Tom Kunz is frustrated and yet challenged by what scientists call White Nose Syndrome.

VIDEO: Mysterious Illness Killing Bats

Nestled up in the rafters are 500 pregnant female brown bats. While these bats are healthy, tens of thousands died over the winter as they hibernated in caves and mines.


Peter Youngbaer of the National Speleological Society and Northeastern Cave Conservancy, which own and manage caves, said many members of caving groups have been helping research the bat die-off.

"As cave owners and managers, we're very concerned about what's going on with the bat hibernacula," Youngbaer said. The speleological society owns three caves where white-nose syndrome was first identified.

"The 12,000 members of the NSS are involved in sampling both in the affected region and in other areas which will serve as controls," Youngbaer said.

Scientists, cavers gather in NY to brainstorm on bats
By MARY ESCH | Associated Press Writer
June 11, 2008

ALBANY, N.Y. - Researchers, cavers and others interested in bats traveled to Albany from across the U.S. and Canada for a three-day
brainstorming session on the mysterious, mass die-off of bats in the Northeast.

The cause of the deaths, which have been documented in about 20 bat hibernation caves in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and
Connecticut, remains unknown. The phenomenon is called "white-nose syndrome" because a mold-like fungus is found powdering the snouts
of many of the dead bats.

"The purpose of the meeting was to bring everybody together to share information so we're all working from a common knowledge base," Susi von Oettingen, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist from Concord, N.H., said as the meeting wound down on Wednesday afternoon.

The massive scale of the die-off was recognized in early January. This week's meeting was an effort to coordinate various research studies; share theories on possible causes; develop priorities for field studies during the summer breeding season and next winter's hibernation; map the progression of the die-off; explore funding sources; and create a clear definition of the syndrome.

Task forces were set up to study a broad range of issues; for example, developing a common scoring system for bat-wing damage to be used by researchers examining bats in the field.

Participants came from 14 states, eight universities, several federal agencies, and Canadian wildlife agencies.


Scientists say a mysterious ailment known as white nose syndrome has killed as many as half a million bats throughout Vermont.

Bat Disease Means More Bugs to Battle

WCAX-TV Burlington, VT

Hinesburg, Vermont - May 26, 2008

Berthann Mulieri loves her garden at her Hinesburg home, but she said she isn't spending as much time here as she used to.

Too many bugs.

"I can be out here a little bit and then I have to go inside because they drive me nuts," she said. Her backyard has more bugs, and none of the bats she used to see. Every year in early May some 300 bats would settle under the metal roof of her house. But not this year.

Now, dozens of pathologists, immunologists, toxicologists, wildlife biologists, and other researchers in more than 15 government, university, and private labs are methodically working to unravel the bat mystery. Government grants are being written to fund more in-depth work. Scientists are using cutting-edge technology, from heat-detecting cameras in muddy bat caves to DNA analysis in sterile labs. Even a Columbia University molecular epidemiologist who discovered a possible contributor to the bee colony collapse has joined the sleuthing. "We've got to find an answer," said Susi von Oettingen, an endangered species biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. "And in so many ways, we really don't know where to start."

'What are these bats telling us about the environment we live in?'
Labs race to unravel deadly illness that may have broader impact

Boston Globe
Beth Daley/ May 4, 2008

DORSET, Vt. - The little brown bat careened out of Aeolus Cave into the bright March afternoon. Crashing into a snow bank, it clawed up the icy mound, wings flailing wildly. Spent and starving, it fell still. Dozens of furry bats, many shivering uncontrollably, littered the snow around the cave's mossy entrance. Others in various stages of dying were tucked into rock crevices nearby - deeply bizarre behavior for animals that avoid light and so despise winter they can hibernate until early May....

For more than four months, perplexed scientists have struggled to understand why upwards of a half-million bats may be at risk of dying in the dark caves and mines of Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and New York. Last year, thousands of dead bats were found in four caves within 7 miles of one another. This year, at least 25 caves and mines spread across 135 miles were found to have sick or dying bats. Homeowners from Hanover, N.H., to East Canaan in northwest Connecticut have reported dead bats on lawns, decks, and roofs, a sign the animals might be affected in an even wider area. But so far, no one has found an infectious agent or any other cause.

Although there have been no reports of bat die-offs in Pennsylvania, and the fungus found on bats at the three hibernaculums has not been positively identified as white nose syndrome, wildlife biologists at the state Game Commission and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are extremely concerned about its potential to decimate bat populations.

(Note: Quite a stir was caused by an initial erroneous report of bat deaths in West Virginias Trout Cave, one of the caves on the currently closed NSS John Guilday Cave Preserve. WVDNR and USFWS officials scrambled to get the newspaper to correct the record in a follow-up story.

They also sent a detailed message to the VAR listserve in an attempt to make sure the organized caving community had the accurate story. Unfortunately, the original story was picked up by the media wire, so the greater public is left with a different impression both about the spread of WNS, and spelunkers. )

Bats tested for white-nose syndrome

The Charlston Gazette
April 29, 2008
By RickSteelhammer
Staff writer

Bats found dead at a Pendleton County cave earlier this month are being tested to determine whether they may have fallen victim to white-nose syndrome, an ailment of unknown origin that has killed tens of thousands of hibernating bats in several northeastern states this winter.

Division of Natural Resources personnel found the dead bats at Trout Cave during a survey of several bat hibernation caves to check for the possible presence of white-nose syndrome. Two other caves were surveyed, but no suspicious bat deaths were found.

(Original story)

Although there have been no reports of bat die-offs in Pennsylvania, and the fungus found on bats at the three hibernaculums has not been positively identified as white nose syndrome, wildlife biologists at the state Game Commission and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are extremely concerned about its potential to decimate bat populations.

4/28/08 (NOTE: Barton Cave, in western Pennsylvania's Fayette County, was closed over the weekend of April 26-27 by Pennsylvania's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. While other caves in the northeast are about to open for the summer, including some affected by White Nose Syndrome, PA is taking a different approach with this cave. A fungus - not necessarily the same as WNS - was found on some bats, but the bats otherwise were healthy and displayed no other of the tell-tale signs (emaciation) or behaviors common to WNS. A PA Game Commission contact said the state was taking a conservative approach. The cave is heavily visited, and he said the state could not be certain that decontamination procedures would be followed by such a wide variety of users.)

State closes Fayette County cave to hone in on killer bat fungus
Sunday, April 27, 2008
By Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Bats caught in the gauzy, almost invisible mist nets stretched across the rocky mouth of Barton Cave last week may provide clues to the mysterious plague that has killed hundreds of thousands of the mammals in the Northeast and New England during the winter.

Bats Plagued by Mysterious 'White-Nose' Disease


Elizabeth Buckles, assistant professor of pathology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University

Thomas H. Kunz, professor of biology and director of the Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology, Boston University

National Public Radio
Talk of the Nation, April 18, 2008

(Link includes audio and video segments)

Wildlife experts are trying to determine what's causing hibernating bats in the Northeast to die en masse.

So far, white-nose syndrome has been identified in bat caves in New York, southwest Vermont, northwest Connecticut and western Massachusetts. Tens of thousands of bats have died. Little brown bats, Indiana bats, northern long-eared, eastern pipistrelle, small-footed and other bat species have all been affected.

As winter ends, mystery over mass bat deaths persists

The mortality has been substantial," said Alan Hicks, a wildlife biologist with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

By MICHAEL HILL | Associated Press Writer
April 1, 2008

VOORHEESVILLE, N.Y. - With survivors of the area's ravaged bat population poised to emerge from

hibernation, biologists are still trying to find out what caused the mass die-off this winter.

An affliction dubbed "white-nose syndrome" for the specks of fungus found around many of the dead bats' snouts has decimated hibernation caves in eastern New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Bats with white nose essentially burn through their fat stores before spring. Many fluttered out of caves this winter in a doomed search for food.

White nose has been detected in about 20 caves in the Northeast, compared to just four caves clustered west of Albany the winter before. Wildlife biologists caution that death counts are hard to estimate accurately, but they say they would not be surprised if more than 100,000 bats died this winter.


An impromptu network of federal and state agencies, and teams of veterinary pathologists from the University of Connecticut, Cornell and the University of Wisconsin have been meeting all winter via teleconferences to share information and the results of necropsies ofaffected bats.

White-Nose Syndrome Spreads To Connecticut
Epidemic Strikes Bats
Hartford Courant Staff Writer
March 29, 2008

A mysterious condition that is already decimating bat populations in New York, Massachusetts and Vermont has spread to Connecticut, with vast implications not only for bats but for the vital role they play in controlling mosquito populations.

Jenny Dickson, a wildlife biologist with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection who entered a major bat hibernaculum (or bat cave) in Litchfield County on Thursday, has confirmed the presence of the usually fatal "white-nose syndrome" on numerous hibernating bats.


(Note: The cause for the bat mortalities has not been identified as a disease)

Chattanooga Time Free Press
New disease plagues Northeast

Saturday, March 29, 2008
By: Kathy Gilbert

A fatal disease killing bats in the Northeast has not struck this region yet, but wildlife experts worry that white-nose syndrome could infiltrate hibernation caves in Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama.

Travis Hill Henry, a Knoxville-based biologist with the Tennessee Valley Authority, said some Chattanooga bats travel to summer caves in Kentucky, where the nocturnal mammals from the Northeast hibernate during winter. A sick bat returning from Kentucky could transmit the syndrome to caves in this area, he said.

One wildlife official said the syndrome might not spread beyond the Northeast. Its not something to be alarmed about, said David Pelren, fish and wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Cookeville, Tenn., field office. But its something to be cautious about.


Mysterious Bat Die-Off
Bat Conservation International

Hibernating bats are dying by the tens of thousands in the northeastern United States, and a growing circle of top scientists is anxiously trying to figure out why. The mystery affliction, reported in New

Bat Conservation International has offered financial assistance to help underwrite a much-needed meeting where experts can share research findings, assess what we know about WNS and recommend the priorities and budgets needed to ensure rapid, cost-effective progress.

This is a critical first step. Without rapid success, many of Americas largest remaining bat populations and the ecosystems they protect may be at extreme risk.

York, Vermont and Massachusetts, is dubbed white-nose syndrome because many affected bats had visible halos of white fungus around their faces.

Researchers increasingly suspect the fungus is not a primary cause of the die-offs, but a symptom of a larger, unidentified problem. The syndrome clearly is a major and imminent threat to North American bats, and until the cause is identified, we can do little to counter it.

So far, scientists are focusing on three hypotheses alone or in some combination to explain the cause:
an as-yet-undetected pathogen, such as a virus, bacterium or fungus;
climate change that is affecting either food supply or the ability to hibernate;
toxicants, such as pesticides that either impair bats ability to hibernate or deprive them of food needed to build sufficient fat reserves to last for an entire winter of hibernation.

The New York Times
Bats Perish, and No One Knows Why

Published: March 25, 2008

Al Hicks was standing outside an old mine in the Adirondacks, the largest bat hibernaculum, or winter resting place, in New York State. It was broad daylight in the middle of winter, and bats flew out of the mine about one a minute. Some had fallen to the ground where they flailed around on the snow like tiny wind-broken umbrellas, using the thumbs at the top joint of their wings to gain their balance.

All would be dead by nightfall. Mr. Hicks, a mammal specialist with the states Environmental Conservation Department, said: Bats dont fly in the daytime, and bats dont fly in the winter. Every bat you see out here is a dead bat flying, so to speak.

This is probably one of the strangest and most puzzling problems we have had with bats, said Paul Cryan, a bat ecologist with the United States Geological Survey. Its really startling that weve not come up with a smoking gun yet. Merlin Tuttle, the president of Bat Conservation International, an education and research group in Austin, Tex., said: So far as we can tell at this point, this may be the most serious threat to North American bats weve experienced in recorded history. It definitely warrants immediate and careful attention.


US bats fall victim to mystery illness

Dozens of bats huddle around the gutters of local homes, desperate for warmth. On the ground, dozens more shrivelled carcasses can be seen on top of the snow and ice. Massachusetts wildlife officer Tom French led us to one of the mines where the bats should still be huddled together in hibernation. Some of the survivors showed clear signs of white nose syndrome, although others did not.
By Matt Wells
BBC News, Massachusetts

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

A mystery illness that has scientists baffled is wiping out tens of thousands of bats across the north-east of the US.

White nose syndrome, as it is known, cannot even be categorised as a disease.

"Did it spread? I don't know, because we don't know what it is," says government biologist Susie von Oettingen, on a recent fact-finding mission in the frozen woods of Massachusetts.

What is known is that the syndrome leaves small, white, fungal spots around the nose and mouth of the tiny nocturnal animals.

The bats have been woken prematurely from their winter hibernation and, with their fat reserves seriously depleted, their natural impulse is to forage for food.


(Note: The cause for the bat mortalities has not been identified as a disease)

Vermont Edition (VPR)
Thursday March 13, 2008
Mysterious Disease Kills Bats in the Northeast
Jane Lindholm

Scientists know that bats with white fungus on their noses are dying in caves and mines across the Northeast. They know that more than 90 % of infected bats in New York caves have died, and they know the disease is spreading in Vermont. But beyond that, the scientific community is baffled by what is killing our region's bats. We talk with bat biologist, Scott Darling, from the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Peter Youngbaer, the president of the Vermont Cavers' Association, about how they're investigating the disease, and about the role bats play in our ecosystem.

Watch Jane Lindhom's Audio Slideshow of Her Visit to the Dorset Cave


"It had all the classic characteristics we've found in the other caves where bats were infected. Bats were flying out of the cave during the day and just dropping into the snow or they were clustered outside the cave," said Darling.

Another southern Vermont bat cave is infected with "white-nose" syndrome
The Associated Press

Friday, March 21
POWNAL - Another southwestern Vermont cave where bats pass the winter is infected with "white-nose" syndrome, a disease that last year killed 8,000 to 11,000 bats in New York state, the largest number of disease-related bat deaths recorded in North America.

The latest site to be found with the disease is the Williams Cave in southwest Pownal, said Vermont Fish and Wildlife biologist Scott Darling.

The cave was discovered after local residents found a large number of dead bats on the ground and reported large numbers of bats flying during the day, an unusual occurrence during the winter.


Bat-killing disease strikes New England's largest cave

Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Inside Aeolus cave last week, Darling and cave enthusiast Peter Youngbaer found more dead bats and about 2,000 bats flying around or hanging from walls near the entrance, also unnatural behavior.

By Candace Page
Burlington Vermont Free Press Staff Writer

A new mysterious and deadly illness of bats has struck New England's largest bat cave, a cavern in a Dorset mountain where 23,000 bats spend the winter, a state wildlife biologist confirmed Monday.

Scott Darling saw the signs as he approached Aeolus cave Thursday. Carcasses of the tiny creatures lay in the snow. More bats flitted around the mouth of the cave, unnatural behavior for a frigid February day.

"It was as though they were running out of energy and their last effort was to go outside in search of food," said Darling, a biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department on Monday.


NCPR News Archives


"White-nose" syndrome kills Northeastern bats: Listen to audio | Download audio (5:15)

Wildlife researchers across the Northeast are scrambling to understand a mysterious ailment that is killing thousands of bats, including rare Indiana bats, which are on the endangered species list. "White-nose" syndrome has been found at sites in New York and Vermont. And on Friday, scientists identified a new, infected cave in Massachusetts. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is now urging people to stay out of caves across the region. Brian Mann has our story.

Slideshow of Brian Mann with researchers in an infected cave


Bats Die by the Thousands From Mystery Malady in Northeast U.S.

There are an awful lot of bat people, even a month ago before we had half of this bad news, all saying the same thing. We've never seen anything like it, and we're all scared,'' said Alan Hicks, the leader of the investigation for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, in a telephone interview today.

By Tom Randall

Jan. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Thousands of bats are dying from an unknown illness in the northeastern U.S. at a rate that could cause extinction, New York state wildlife officials said.

At eight caves in New York and one in Vermont, scientists have seen bat populations plummet over two years. Most bats hibernate in the same cave every winter, keeping annual counts consistent. A cave that had 1,300 bats in January 2006 had 470 bats last year. It recently sheltered just 38.

At another cave, more than 90 percent of about 15,500 bats have died since 2005, and two-thirds that remain now sleep near the cave's entrance, where conditions are less hospitable.