Millions of bats across the Eastern United States have died in the last three years as a mysterious illness, dubbed “White Nose Syndrome”, has gradually spread from one area to another. While research into the syndrome continues, much remains to be discovered about an affliction that threatens to greatly reduce America’s bat population.
While federal and state agencies have halted visitation to many caves in reaction to the spread of White Nose Syndrome, Indiana’s show caves (Bluespring Caverns, Marengo Cave & Squire Boone Caverns) believe they can best serve the interests of bats, other cave inhabitants, and caves in general by continuing to educate and entertain the public as they have been doing for many years. In concert with the National Caves Association and its 92 members across the nation they have been actively supporting White Nose Syndrome research while reinforcing a positive message about bats in today’s environment.
Indiana’s millions of bats are vital to crop production, playing a major role in controlling night-flying insects. Without bats we would need much greater quantities of chemical insecticides; increasing food costs and adversely affecting the environment. These small creatures are also a primary source of energy supporting the unique food chain of the complex living communities in many of Indiana’s caves.
Bats can be found in many places. In warm weather, most bats spend the day hidden under tree bark in our forests, under bridges and other man-made structures as well as in caves and mines. While we have millions of bats, they reproduce very slowly (one bat to a “litter”), making this animal very vulnerable to deadly events like White Nose Syndrome. While many people think of bats as flying rodents, they are actually in the same order as lemurs and other primates.
What We Know About White Nose Syndrome
This debilitating syndrome is affecting many species of bats, resulting in death ratios of 90 percent or more in affected environments and shows as a white fungus mask on affected bats. It appears to kill by irritating bats, causing them to wake and fly during hibernation. The bats seem to simply starve before food (insects) become available.
White Nose Syndrome is known to affect only bats, not other animals or humans. It was first recorded in New York in 2007 and subsequently found in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. It has since spread to sites in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Recently, isolated bats with the syndrome have been discovered in Tennessee and Missouri. Based on current data, it appears likely that the syndrome is spread by bat-to-bat contact following bat migratory patterns. WNS does not appear to have been spread from one location to another by human traffic.
Squire Boone Caverns/Village, www.squireboonecaverns.com, 812-732-4382
Marengo Cave National Landmark, www.marengocave.com, 812-365-2705
Bluespring Caverns Park, www.bluespringcaverns.com, 812-279-9471