NASHVILLE, TN (TWRA) - The white-nosed syndrome (WNS), which has affected the bat population in several northeastern states and is expected to hit Tennessee this winter, will be the subject of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's Nature @ Noontime monthly program. The program is Thursday, Oct. 1 from noon-1 p.m. in the TWRA Region II conference room located at the Ellington Agricultural Center.
Cory Holliday, Cave and Karst Program Manager with The Nature Conservancy, Tennessee Chapter, will be the October Nature @ Noontime presenter and will present an update on WNS and about what is being done to help protect Tennessee bats.
In February 2006, in mid-state New York, a caver photographed hibernating bats with an unusual white substance on their muzzles. He also noticed several dead bats nearby. The following winter, the occurrence of bats behaving erratically, bats with white noses and a few hundred dead bats in several caves came to the attention of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation biologists, who documented WNS in January 2007.
Since then an estimated 1.5 million hibernating bats have died throughout several states in the northeast. WNS now occurs in nine states and is spreading swiftly southward. Tennessee has some of the largest bat colonies in the world. Of particular concern are the federally endangered Indiana and gray bats, both of which hibernate in Tennessee caves.
To fight this conservation crisis, a diverse range of biologists, academicians and land managers from across the United States are working together, determined to find the answers to this deadly mystery.
It is named for a white fungus that appears on the faces, ears, wings and feet of hibernating bats, causing them to wake up and burn precious fat reserves. The bats fly early from their cave in search of food, and since the insects they normally eat are unavailable, they starve. Once a colony is affected, the fungus spreads rapidly and has killed at least 95 percent of bats at one hibernation site in just two years.
Bats, one of nature's most effective pest controls, between April and October will eat their body weight in insects each night. They play a key role in keeping populations of insects such as agricultural pests, mosquitoes and forest pests in check.
To control the spread of WNS, the U.S. Forest Service has temporarily closed thousands of caves and mines in national forests in 33 states. In Tennessee, other public closures include caves in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee state parks and forests, and on lands owned by TWRA and The Nature Conservancy.
Although the disease does not appear to harm humans, or wildlife other than bats, the public is reminded to not handle bats under any circumstances due to the possibility of rabies.