LANSING, Mich. (April 10, 2014) — A new fungus has been discovered on bats here in Michigan. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources said that the word catastrophic doesn`t even discribe the amount of damage it could cause.
The fungus attacks the bats while in hibernation, and an expert said that it could kill off as much as 90 percent of Michigan’s bat population.
This is the time of year, Michigan’s estimated 280,000 bats are coming out of hibernation.
Experts are now focusing in on the deadly fungus called White-nose Syndrome. It was first discovered in the U.S. in 2006 in New York. It was not discovered here in Michigan until just a couple months ago.
Dan O’Brien with the DNR Wildlife Disease Laboratory in Lansing said that Michigan’s first White-nose Syndrome case was first discovered on February 4, 2014 in Dickinson County.
A couple weeks ago, four more infected bats were found in Alpena and Mackinac counties.
“While they are hibernating, their body shuts down basically and, so it easy for the fungus to grow on them. Plus, they tend to hibernate in places where it’s cold, you know just above freezing and damp,” said O’Brien.
Although the fungus itself doesn’t kill the bat, it forms white areas on the skin causing irratation that wakes the bat from hibernation during winter.
“Before the insects are back, and then there is nothing for them to eat and starve to death,” said O’Brien.
O’Brien said that the amount of bats that will die in Michigan will be more than catastrophic.
“We can expect that we will see many more of these infected animals in coming winters, and we will probably also start to see the big die-offs of bats, which in some cases can be 90 percent of the bats,” said O’Brien.
Without a known cure, and as more bats die-off, according to O’Brien farm pests that they feed on will grow out of control.
“If they are no longer there to eat those insects, there is some potential for significant economic damage to crops and the forest products from these pests that aren’t getting eaten by the bats,” said O’Brien.
O’Brien said that White-nose syndrome spreads between bats, and also people who track the fungus on their clothing.
“If humans go into a mine or cave that’s contaminated with the fungus, and they don’t know it. They can actually transport the fungus,” said O’Brien.
O’Brien also said that experts are still looking for answers on the best way to combat the fungus. He also said that one thing they are doing is encouraging land mine openers to open their conrete sealed entrances and replace them with “bat-gates” to allow for new uninfected areas for bats to hibernate this comming winter.