Wisconsin bats threatened by white nose syndrome

David Drake, Associate Professordownload
Department of Forest & Wildlife Ecology
UW College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
(608) 890-0445

David Drake talks about the fungal disease spreading fast through the Wisconsin bat population and what can happen if spreading does not slow down.


Time – 3:06 minutes
0:17 – White nose syndrome
0:42 – What the disease looks like
1:00 – Kills bats in hibernation
1:34 – Likely to spread
1:50 – Affected species of bats
2:21 – Beneficial bug eaters
2:31 – Slowing the spread of white nose
2:56 – Lead out

David Drake on bats and white nose syndrome

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Sevie Kenyon: David, white nose syndrome in bats. What is that?

David Drake: White nose syndrome is this insidious disease. It’s a fungal disease that was first discovered in America in 2006 in a cave near Albany, New York. It’s a fungus that attacks cave hibernating bats, and they are typically hibernating in caves or mines. It’s a naturally occurring fungus, and for whatever reason in 2006 it flared up and started to attack these bats.

Sevie Kenyon: David, can you describe what white nose looks like in bats?

David Drake: It’s called white nose syndrome because it makes the muzzle of the bat as if they were taken and dipped in white powdered sugar. And so they have this white around their mouth and their nose, and what happens, is the fungus causes these bats to wake up.

Sevie Kenyon: David, what ultimately kills the bats when they get this?

David Drake: Ultimately what will kill them is either dehydration, or hypothermia, because they’re active in the winter and they just don’t have that body mass and the protection to keep them warm to the thermal cover. And sometimes when this fungus gets to their wings it will start eating holes through the wing membrane and bats will use their wings similar to a blanket, and when that wing is holey, not only does it not serve of as good of a thermal cover, but also, because they’re a flying mammal, it can affect their flight in a negative way.

Sevie Kenyon: And David, this disease has been discovered in bats here in Wisconsin now, what does that mean to us?

David Drake: Unfortunately now it’s here in the state of Wisconsin and it’s going to spread through the state. If it’s any indication of the way it’s spread from Albany, NY, westward, it’s probably going to spread relatively quickly through the state of Wisconsin. 

Sevie Kenyon: Does it affect all bats?

David Drake: Currently we have seven bat species in Wisconsin. Four of that bat species are what we call resident bats, and because they spend their entire life and year here in Wisconsin, those four species, which are resident species, have gained the State Threat and Status. So they’re a state threatened animal. That’s the big brown bat, little brown bat, long eared, and pipl strobe bat. And so those four species are especially susceptible to white nose syndrome because they’re the cave hibernating bats.

Sevie Kenyon: Where do bats fit into our ecosystem?

David Drake: They’re extremely beneficial. They eat their weight in flying insects and so they’re wonderful in terms of insect control.

Sevie Kenyon: David what’s likely to happen from here?

David Drake: The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has been very proactive in shutting public access to caves that are used by a lot of hibernating bats, so that will help to slow down the spread of the disease because white nose syndrome can be spread from cave to cave on the bodies and clothing of spelunkers. So the DNR presented very defining guidelines as to how to clean your equipment if you do move from cave to cave so that you can not spread it.

Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with David Drake, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin Extension and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, Wisconsin, and I am Sevie Kenyon.



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