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Massive Decline in VA Bats - More Bugs & Pests?

August 6, 2012

RICHMOND, Va. - For the past several years, a fungus called white nose syndrome has killed up to 6.7 million bats in North America. The first cases in Virginia were documented in the winter of 2009.

The fungus thrives in cold weather. It causes bats to wake up hungry during winter hibernation - and when the bats leave their caves in search of food, they die.

Rick Reynolds, a wildlife biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, says white nose syndrome has affected various species of bats. In Virginia, the little brown bat has taken the biggest hit.

"We've probably lost close to 98 percent of the little brown bats that hibernate here in Virginia. We've gone from caves that have several thousand bats in them - come back and we're finding less than a hundred left."

Virginia has more than 4,000 caves, Reynolds says, and while they have only studied about 50 of them, he says the loss of bats to white nose syndrome in those caves is a good indication of what has happened to bats around the state.

State and federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are working with scientists to learn how the fungus works and to try to stop it.

It is difficult to say what the continued loss of bats will mean to the ecosystem, Reynolds says, but bats eat up to their own weight in insects every night - including mosquitoes and a whole host of agricultural pests.

"It's probably going to mean that farmers or agribusiness is going to have to apply more insecticides. You may have to end up doing the same thing around your gardens and around your lawn and such."

The public can help by reporting unusual bat behavior, such as flying or roosting in the sunlight, to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Be sure to stay out of caves when bats are hibernating, Reynolds says, If bats are in your home and you don't want them there, work with your local natural resource agency to exclude or remove them.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA