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Bats continue their struggle to survive

October 21, 2018 Digital Media Exclusive

DCNR Ranger Juston Flick looks into a bat house Wednesday at the Kildoo Day Use Area at McConnells Mill State Park.

This is an excerpt — read the full story in Sunday's Butler Eagle.

For many of Pennsylvania's bats, White-Nose Syndrome is a fatal alarm clock.

It does not affect humans, but this fungus has been reaping the lives of bats by the thousands.

Dustin Drew, park manager for Moraine State Park, said the bat population at the park has been down for a number of years.

Drew said rangers check on the six bat houses in the park, all of which could sustain anywhere from 50 to 100 bats. None of them is occupied now.

“They were all used at one point in the past,” Drew said.

White-Nose Syndrome, first documented in New York in 2006, is a fungal infection that forms on the muzzles and wing membranes of hibernating bats.

Once infected, the bats — which survive the winter by using their fat stores — wake too early from hibernation. It often proves to be a fatal wake-up call. Restarting their systems takes a lot of energy, and eats into a bat's fat stores at a time when there are no bugs to replenish their reserves.

Drew said the fungus is especially harmful to bats that live in caves.

“It could wipe out all or most of the bats in the cave, and that can be thousands, so it can really take an effect,” he said.

That effect can be a cascading one, because fewer bats means more bugs too.

“You take away one thousand bats, and that's hundreds of thousands of insects that aren't being eaten,” Drew said. “Any time you have a shift or a gap created in the food web, then it throws things off for a while.”

For some bat species the fungus has been devastating. In all six species that hibernate in Pennsylvania, biologists have seen a 99 percent decline in their numbers, according a 2012 report published by the Pennsylvania State Game Commission.