A disease called white-nose syndrome (WNS) is wreaking havoc on the bat population in Minnesota. The annual bat count shows the effects of WNS, with recorded declines of up to 94 percent.
Minnesota Bat Population In Decline
In a news release, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced a significant decline in the state’s bat population, a dire but expected outcome given the conditions in neighboring states.
Evidently, this decline is being caused by WNS, a harmful disease that is often fatal to hibernating bats. Compared to the counts made in 2015, when WNS was first confirmed in the state, recent surveys by the agency saw up to a steep decline in bat populations in affected areas.
Particularly affected locations are Soudan Underground Mine, which saw a 90 percent population decline and Mystery Cave with a 94 percent decline. The Soudan Underground Mine is also where WNS was first confirmed in Minnesota.
As mentioned, WNS is a disease that can be fatal to bats. It is so named because of the white fungus that grows on the infected bats’ noses. It is not so far known to be harmful to humans, pets, other wildlife, or livestock.
Primarily, WNS is passed from bat to bat, but people can transmit the fungal spores to other bats as well through their clothes or caving gear. Given that many public tours occur in the caves where bats live, the tourists are being advised to not use the same clothing, shoes, or gear when visiting another cave, as multiple washings may not provide ample decontamination.
Tourists are also made to walk on specialized mats that remove spores from their boots.
Why Are Bats Important?
Bats are voracious eaters of insects such as moths and mosquitoes. Ever since WNS was confirmed in Minnesota, some residents have been seeing more and more mosquitoes and other biting insects. Furthermore, bats also eat insects that destroy crops and vegetable gardens.
This means that when the bat population decreases, it’s also possible that pesticide use may increase.
Since WNS was first confirmed in North America in 2007 in New York, it has spread to 33 states and seven Canadian provinces and has killed over 6 million bats.