Sep 13, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Federal agency seeks protections for bat species decimated by fungus

A person holding a tricolor bat at a bat rescue center in Mertztown, Pennsylvania, in August 2018.
A person holding a tricolor bat at a bat rescue center in Mertztown, Pa., in August 2018.

Federal officials on Tuesday proposed adding the tricolored bat, a microbat native to eastern North America, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Why it matters: The tricolored bat is one of the bat species affected by a deadly fungal disease called white-nose syndrome. The disease, caused by an invasive fungus, has killed over 90% of its population in under 10 years, according to a study released last year.

How it works: The fungus thrives in cool, humid conditions and typically kills bats hibernating in winter in caves, abandoned mines and tunnels.

  • It grows on the bats' skin and wakes them when they should be hibernating, causing them to expend their winter fat reserves and starve to death.

What they're saying: The Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday the fungus is responsible for the deaths of "millions" of bats, "which unfortunately means surviving bats are more vulnerable to other stressors, such as human disturbance and habitat loss."

The big picture: The tricolor bats' range includes almost all of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains, the southern portion of Canadian provinces east of the Great Lakes and portions of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and Nicaragua.

  • The fungus was first documented in the U.S. in New York in 2006, and, as of 2021, was found in 35 states and seven Canadian provinces, while white-nose syndrome had been confirmed within 12 North American bat species.
  • Bats promote biodiversity in ecosystems and are crucial for pest control, pollinating plants and commercial crops and dispersing seeds, according to the National Science Foundation.

Go deeper: Monarch butterflies are now considered endangered

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