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Bat Crisis: The White-nose Syndrome
Indiana bat

Sun Journal, July 19, 2008

Bats dying off across western Maine
By Terry Karkos

RANGELEY - A mysterious disorder is killing hibernating bats by the thousands from New York to Vermont.

That has Bill Elliott worried about Maine's bat population. The owner of Maine Bat Control makes his living ridding houses and buildings across the state of bats and preventing re-entry.

The illness, called white-nose syndrome, has not been found in Maine, but state wildlife officials have received reports of dead bats being found in western and central areas.

Because bats migrate, they could have been exposed, Elliott said. "It's scary, because they do us a good service."

One bat can eat as many as 3,000 flying insects a night during the summer, but females only produce one bat pup a year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That's why wildlife officials across the Northeast are concerned.

According to the service, white-nose syndrome refers to a white fungus found on the noses of affected bats. The fungus may be a symptom and not the cause of unprecedented bat mortality.

First detected at caves and mines in New York in the winter of 2006-07, the syndrome is believed to have killed 8,000 to 11,000 hibernating bats.

In early April, the service identified it in bats in 18 sites in New York, five sites in Vermont, three in Massachusetts and one in Connecticut.

"It's something to be concerned about, but we don't have a lot of caves here," said Judy Camuso, a wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Camuso said Maine officials have surveyed a few bat colonies, but have yet to find signs of the fungus.

"It's primarily found in little brown bats because of the way they like to congregate. I'm not sure yet if it's in other species," said Wally Jakubas, Maine Inland Fisheries' mammal group leader.

Jakubas said people across western Maine contacted him this month to say they'd found bats dying outside their homes.

Jakubas sent Inland Fisheries contractor David Yates of the BioDiversity Research Institute in Gorham to retrieve the bats and send them to researchers at Boston University for testing.

"Some of our bats might be dying because of this, but it's too early to tell," Yates said Tuesday.

He said he checked bats in mines in Rumford this winter, but didn't see any telltale signs of the disorder.

"This disease is so new, we don't really know where it will show up. That's why we're taking precautions and working with people to ensure that we don't have the disease here," Jakubas said.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton