by David Qaummen
Synopsis and resource annotations by Max Grinnell
This piece from the December 2010 issue of
explores this troubling situation, and it begins with a description of the U.S.
Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin. This
secure facility contains habitats for prairie dogs, zebra finches, and tiny
brown bats. All of these animals are part of various scientific experiments on
wildlife health, and David S. Blehert, a microbiologist at the Wildlife Health
Center, is looking at how this fungus is affecting the bats.
So far, Blehert and others in the field have observed that this new fungus (and
White-Nose Syndrome, the disease it causes) is the first one to target a
hibernating animal. The fungus appears to be new to North America, and its
presence was first noted at a cave west of Albany, New York in February 2006. A
team of experts from New York's Department of Environmental Conservation made an
inspection of a nearby cave and found thousands of dead bats . In the past few
years, biologists estimate that over a million bats of various species have died
from this mysterious fungus throughout the U.S., with populations at some sites
Scientists have determined that what makes the fungus lethal is that it strikes
hibernating bats. Usually, fungi don't cause serious problems in warm-blooded
creatures, but since the physiology of hibernation in mammals includes the
lowering of body temperature and other metrics of metabolism, the animals become
quite vulnerable. Scientists remain interested in locating the origins of the
fungus, but that has proved difficult. They are puzzled as to why this fungal
infection develops into the dreaded White-Nose Syndrome (WNS). This is when the
fungus covers the snout fur of the bat and causes corrosive white lesions on the
wings and early arousal from hibernation. There are many unanswered questions
about this fungus, and it is something that curious parties will want to keep
tabs on over the coming months and years.
Found below is a list of useful resources that will illuminate and
enhance understanding of the topics found within this article.
The first link
take visitors to a great site from the Wildlife Disease Information Node from
the National Biological Information Infrastructure that includes interactive
maps of animal diseases around the world, complete with numerous filters and
The second link
leads to the homepage of the Bat Conservation Trust, where visitors will find a
trove of materials on all things bats, White-Nose Syndrome, and much more.
Moving along, the
will take interested parties to an excellent website from the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, which is dedicated to collecting and disseminating information
about White Nose Syndrome.
The fourth link
leads to the University of Bristol's Bat Ecology and Bioacoustics Lab where
visitors will find a useful set of tools to learn about bats, including their
Interactive Biosonar site, which teaches about seeing with sound.
The fifth link
provides a great set of instructional materials on the processes animals use to
adapt to the changing seasons, including migrations and hibernations.
leads to the homepage of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford
University. Here visitors can learn about wildlife conservation efforts around
the world and read relevant reports.