“It’s been a tough time for all of us,” Barney consoled her. “And no wonder you’re sick of it,” he added. “We’ve been fighting this pandemic in Wisconsin for at least 10 years now!” Barney Brownbat reminded her as he darted after another plump mosquito.
The disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS) gets its name from the white fungus that grows on a bat’s nose disrupting its hibernation. This weakens and often kills the creature. WNS has affected at least 13 bat species in North America killing up to 6.7 million bats and decimating our once-common friend, the little brown bat.
Annoyed by that mosquito buzzing in your ear? Bats are here to help. They feast on insects each night to the tune of $4 billon of free pest removal services in the U.S. One bat can eat between 600 to 1,000 mosquitoes and other flying pests in just one hour! As a result, farmers need to use fewer pesticides saving them money and reducing the amount of poisons released into our environment. In tropical areas fruit eating bats pollinate flowers and help disperse seeds.
We need bats not only for their productivity but also because they occupy their own special niche in a balanced ecological web of life. So ten years ago the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey Wildlife Health Center and University of Wisconsin wildlife experts to find ways to prevent bats from getting infected or to treat those who do.
This daunting task has included surveying bat populations and their roosting and hibernation haunts, working to develop vaccines, and monitoring bat movements with tiny bat-toted transponders. The persistent work is paying off as this year scientists are finding some evidence that the disease may have bottomed out, and we may be entering a WNS stabilization period.
Later…Betty and Barney were trapped, vaccinated and recently spotted flying high over Old Man Tennessen’s place – the first bats seen there in years. They’re a welcome sign of hope, scientific know-how and Mother Nature’s resiliency unfolding here on the only home we’ll ever know. It’s where we’re all forever… Earthbound.