Disease Destroying State's Bat Population

Disease Destroying State's Bat Population

Loss of millions of creatures could have far-reaching effect.

UNIVERSITY PARK, CENTRE COUNTY - Some biologists are calling it an "ecological crisis."

A disease is close to destroying the population of Pennsylvania's most common bat. And, the effects could be more far-reaching than just wiping out a species.

The Little Brown Bat makes up 90 percent of the 11 bat species in Pa. And at least two million have been killed over the past few years.

Locally, the Shaver's Creek Environmental Center used to have about 16,000 Little Brown Bats. Now, it only has nine.

The White Nose Syndrome disease is caused by a fungus that grows in caves where the bats hibernate for the winter. It forms white spots on their noses and wings and weakens the little creatures. There's no cure for it and it's often fatal.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission estimates the disease has caused a 99 percent decline in the state's bat population.

Besides the potential for extinction, the huge loss of bats could severely affect farmers. They would likely have to spray their fields more to protect them from crop-damaging insects. One bat could eat anywhere from one-thousand to three-thousand bugs a night.

"It's a lot of insects and when you have a huge population like 23,000 bats in Canoe Creek State Park that have gone missing," said Shaver's Creek Program Director Doug Wentzel. "You can do the math, that's a lot of insects."

Wentzel, who also teaches at Penn State, said he is hopeful that bats will survive, but they need more advocates for protection and research.

There's also an effort nationally by biologists to develop a bacterium that could cut down or slow the growth of the fungus that causes White Nose Syndrome.

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