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Conservation

White-Nose Syndrome Reaches Texas Bat Colonies

In February, some Central Texas residents noticed a strange phenomenon: bats in very poor health were appearing in large numbers. Biologists know that an event like this points to something very wrong.

With insects in short supply, bats usually spend the winter hibernating in dark, cool places where they’re protected from predators. During hibernation, bats drop their body temperature to the ambient temperature of their roost to save energy. This is how a bat, at about the size of a chicken nugget and with an impressively high metabolic rate, can survive long winters on only 6 grams of fat.

White-nose syndrome is a disease of hibernating bats caused by a fungus that infects the skin. Researchers hypothesize that WNS changes the way bats hibernate, causing them to burn through their limited fat stores too quickly so they eventually starve.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department submitted dead bats from all over Central Texas to test for WNS. The results were grim. After some hopeful test results over the past four years suggesting that WNS may move slowly in Texas, the disease was confirmed in the cave myotis (Myotis velifer) from 18 counties in Central Texas, including Uvalde County, now the southernmost case of WNS in North America.

There are also hints that our larger M. velifer roosts in the Panhandle could be next. Along with M. velifer, Texas is home to several species that could be susceptible to WNS, and still other species that could be long-distance carriers.

The best way for the public to help is to act as an ambassador for bats. Bats are unfairly given a bad rap for all kinds of (mostly inaccurate) reasons. Educate yourself and talk about bats to your friends. Folks usually change their opinions after learning about bats (such as when they learn that certain bat species are critical to tequila production). You can also help by signing up for a conservation license plate, which provides research funding for bats and other Texas natives.

Bats are a critical piece of the Texas ecosystem and part of what makes Texas so unique. Without them, our world would be far less beautiful, and noticeably buggier.

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