Saturday, June 26, 2010

Late Day Humor

We all need a good laugh now and then, and today's comes to you from the Winter/Spring 2010 issue of "Occurance," the newsletter of the New York Natural Heritage Program.


Q: What's going on with New York's bats?

A: Several species of New York's bats have declined precipitously in the last few years. Recent research has determined that they have been afflicted with a terrible disease. When their hibernacula are too near highways or, you know, like, really windy places, ambient "white noise" wakes them up, interferes with their echolocation, and SMACK! they fly into trees and die. The affliction is thus named "White Noise Syndrome." Scientists are confused because white noise often helps people sleep, so why not bats? On the meantime, managers are working furiously to soundproof caves by carpeting the stalagmites.


In all seriousness, however, WNS (white NOSE syndrome) has now been found in Oklahoma, although previous reports of it being in Kentucky were apparently erroneous.

A southeastern myotis was discovered in Virginia this year with WNS. Scientists are concerned because this species is already in decline, and if individuals contract WNS, they will further spread the disease as they travel throughout their range: south Florida to eastern Texas, and north to Indiana and Illinois.

The small-footed bat and the northern long-earred bat, both found in New York in very small numbers, may soon be on the endangered species list.

The future is not rosy.


  1. Ellen - good chuckle on a very serious issue. Re: Oklahoma - technically, WNS has not been confirmed on that bat, rather only the genetic presence of the implicated fungus, Geomyces destructans. The U.S. Geological Survey, which did the testing, found no concurrent histopathology, thus this is formally characterized as "likely," but not confirmed. This has been the case with several of the other recent findings, including Delaware, Missouri, and Tennessee where the fungus was ID'd, but there were no other sypmtoms or bat mortalities. This is due, in part, to more sophisticated PCR analysis than previously available. Some think this may be the leading edge of WNS, but others experienced in genetics have suggested not a large enough piece of the gene was sequenced to confirm WNS. Re: Kentucky, you are correct that it has not yet been found there, but most of us believe that is only a matter of time. Re: the endangered species possibilities, it is far too soon to draw any conclusion on the outcome of a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, as the ESA listing process is long and arduous. Frankly, these two species are not numerous anyway, and the impact on the ecosystem is more likely to be felt by the dramatic decline in what was our most common bat, the Little Brown. Still, not rosy. Peter Youngbaer, White Nose Syndrome Liaison, National Speleological Society

  2. I used to see bats (not sure which species) flying around the streetlights going after moths and other insects drawn to the lights. No more. I also would sit next to the water at dusk and enjoy watching them skim just over the water. No more. And the swallows are down in numbers as well. Where flocks of tree swallows nested under every bridge and in waterside dead trees, now I'm lucky to see but a few. Many of the towns of the Adirondacks treat streams and wetlands with BTi. This kills more than black fly larvae. It also kills an equal number of midge larvae and a significant number of other aquatic insects in nymphal form. Is there a connection? I think so.

  3. Thanks, Peter. I got this information from the WNS official website, so I will go back and make sure I didn't misread it. I suspect that like so many things, we will only know a fraction of what is happening - nature can be so complex. WNS is a tragedy on a scale that is mind-boggling. For something to move so fast and wipe out entire species (potentially) is almost beyond comprehension. It's a wake-up call that some things cannot be put off for future generations to deal with.

    Diana - The Bti issue is a complex one. There are those who believe that it cannot be as benign as applicators declare, while scientists are out there who say that it is a relatively "friendly" way to control target species. I tend to fall into the camp that if you mess around with ecological balances, even on relatively small scales, you are bound to do some irreparable harm. As long as there are people on this planet, however, most of them will put themselves first, apart from the rest of nature.

  4. Very funny!!!

    Not so funny though is the fact that most of the caves in WV have now been gated and the DNR is asking for volunteers to find and count bats because of their concern.

    I've been enjoying your posts.

  5. Funny take on a scary topic. The loss of bats is horrifying. Re BTi, it seems to me the benefits would need to be huge before taking a chance on spraying should even be considered. We rarely know the full impact of such actions and the side-effects are rarely good.