Bats gone for 100 years?

Harrisburg — If you see a little brown bat this summer, you might want to take a picture of it.

Someday, far in the future when cellphone pictures are regarded the same way grainy black and white prints are today, it might be something special.

That’s because bats are in trouble, and likely will be for a long, long while.

Little brown, tri-colored and long-eared bats in particular are suffering from white-nose syndrome, a fungal infection that causes bats in winter hibernacula to wake up repeatedly, burning critical stored energy each time. Ultimately, they become emaciated and perish.

Pennsylvania’s bats have experienced that to a large degree. One example is an old mine in Canoe Creek State Park in Blair County. It had 35,000 bats in it prior to the discovery of white-nose syndrome in April of 2010, said commission biologist Greg Turner.

When surveyed this past winter it had 155.

This is not just a Pennsylvania disease, though. White-nose – which is still of unknown origin and popped up in New York in 2006 – can be found in 22 states and five Canadian provinces from the Northeast through the Midwest.

No one knows what’s caused the disease, and there’s no known way to treat it, said Dan Brauning, chief of the Pennsylvania Game Commis­sion’s Bureau of Wildlife Diversity. That presents a monumental challenge, he added.

“We’re in uncharted territory with a mammal going from being one of the most common in the state to almost extirpated,” he said.

The agency hopes to tackle that challenge and save bats by focusing on “survivor management,” or protecting those that remain, said commission mammalogist Cal Butchkoski.

“Today’s challenge is to find white nose survivors to work with,” he said.

The commission might offer protections in several ways. Restricting caving activity in winter, when bats are most vulnerable to disturbance, is one option, Butchkoski said.
Instituting conservation measures like gating the entrances to caves and mines on state-owned land, such as game lands and bureau of forestry lands, is another. Protecting small hibernation sites – ones so small as to be almost ignored in past years – might be a third.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may take things a step further and list certain species of bats as federally threatened or endangered, too.

No matter the steps taken, though, it will be a long time before little brown, tri-colored and long-eared bats are ever common again, Butchkoski said. He was asked how long it would take, if white-nose syndrome could be made to disappear overnight, for bat populations to return to previous levels.

Butchkoski said that while bats can live a long time – up to 34 years in one known case – they are slow to reproduce. They have just one pup per year. Nature prevents all of those from surviving, he said.

So figure on the rebound of bats to take a century or more, he said.

“With that reproductive rate, it’s not going to happen in our lifetime. It’s probably going to take 100 years,” he said.

Daunting though that prediction might be, the commission needs to do what it can to help bats where it can, said Commissioner Ralph Martone, of Lawrence County, at the board’s work group session in May.

“When you have a handful of survivors, the value of those is enormous. If two passenger pigeons came back today they’d be worth their weight in gold because they’d be it,” he said. “We are getting very close to that stage with some of these bat survivors.”

Categories: Social Media

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *