Want to Be a Bat Hero? Don’t Visit the Batcave.

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Myotis evotis, a long-eared bat. Credit: Sarah Olson/WCS.

White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus that grows well in cold and moist environments, like the caves and mines where bats roost.

Roughly half of all North American bat species live in caves, mines or even abandoned buildings. Bats use these “hidden” habitats for mating, raising young, resting or hibernating.

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Catherine Haase, a postdoctoral researcher of wildlife ecology at Montana State University and modeling lead with the Wildlife Conservation Society, carries bags filled with bats so she can transport them down to the mobile laboratory. Credit: Sarah Olson/WCS
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The team sets up mist nets early in the evening on a mountainside in central Montana. Credit: Sarah Olson/WCS.

White-nose syndrome has already infected bats from 11 species so far and has spread from its original discovery in New York to more than 30 U.S. states and seven Canadian provinces.

Bat biologists are doing all they can to understand and stamp out the disease. Many disease ecologists are researching how they can prevent or slow down fungal growth or even kill the fungus through bio-control. (Bio-control is the process of using other organisms to control pests, such as the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome.) Immunologists are also trying to figure out if it’s possible to prevent infection or the effects of the disease by using preventative measures, such as a vaccine.

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Nate Fuller, the field lead and a postdoctoral researcher at Texas Tech University, inspects a bat. Credit: Sarah Olson/WCS.

You can be a hero for bats by leaving their habitats undisturbed.

It’s worth noting that even bats with no obvious signs of the fungus (a white, powdery substance on the nose and torn wings) may still be infected. Behavioral changes, such as unusual flying during the day in near-freezing weather, can be another sign of infection. Because of this (and generally because bats can carry rabies), it is smart to play it safe and avoid contact with any bat.

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WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.

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