Tag Archives: bugs

Bats, Caves, and White-Nose Syndrome

Weird! Cool! Bats!

Weird! Cool! Bats! [Image: www.nature.org/]

Bats are awesome. They are a crucial part of insect control, pollination, and seed dispersal within their environments. They’re adorable, they help mitigate mosquito populations, and they have suffered huge, tragic population losses over the last 10 years because of a fungus that is incredibly spreadable, Pseudogeomyces destructans (Pd).

Over six million bats have died because of white-nose syndrome (WNS), which is caused when Pd is present in a cave where bats are hibernating. The hibernating bats are understandably awoken by the discomfort of having a fungus growing on their faces, but being awake prematurely is terribly costly in terms of energy. The bat is supposed to be sleeping the winter away because its food sources are limited or nonexistent, and it will likely starve or die in pursuit of food in weather and temperatures they aren’t built to withstand.

Poor bat.

I don’t think any of us would get a good night’s rest with that kind of thing going on. [Image: www.whitenosesyndrome.org/]

All this to say: While WNS is spread mostly between bat neighbors, humans can contribute to the problem if explorers delve into a cave where Pd spores are present, and then without proper precautions, wear the same gear to an uninfected location. That is, even though human transmission is neither the primary mode of transmission between bat populations, nor very common, precautionary measures are a critical aspect of protecting a very important species, especially when we haven’t entirely figured out how to combat it.

Snack!

Dinner on the fly. [Image: www.scienceinseconds.com/]

If you’re an avid spelunker or cave explorer, especially on the east coast of the U.S. and Canada, you’ve probably already read up on the appropriate decontamination protocol for your subterranean equipment. But for those of you who are new to the activity, it’s best to think of white-nose syndrome as an invasive species. One should endeavor to avoid contact with an area where the fungus has been documented, and certainly contact with bats, regardless of the confirmed presence of the fungus or not.

Here at Pocket Ranger®, we support the noble spirit of subterranean exploration! It’s a great way to stay active in the year’s hottest months and is a fun and enriching way of experiencing an inverse of our lives above ground. But with the deadly proliferation of white-nose syndrome in American bat populations, there are responsibilities that cave explorers must recognize. Hopefully we all keep them in mind as we spelunk our way out of the oppressive summer heat.

Some Facts About Mosquitoes

Conjecture: Mosquitoes are probably the most annoying insects on the planet. Fact: They are one of the most dangerous animals on the planet. They’re a source of discomfort, a vector for disease, and they seem to be everywhere we are when enjoying nature, or lately, even just reading the news. Here at Pocket Ranger®, we and our sponsor Thermacell® want to talk about this pest that has brought itself to the forefront of our thoughts as the weather improves and we are drawn outdoors. We’re here to discuss the facts while underlining the importance of mosquito bite prevention.

mosquitoes are the worst.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito enjoying a meal. It’s astonishing the lengths folks will take to photograph these hungry blighters. [Image: www.cdc.gov/]

The Obvious

  • Mosquitoes make up the family Culicidae, approximately 3,500 flying, biting insect species best known for drinking blood from mammals, reptiles, birds, and basically anything else with blood they can sink their proboscises into. They tend to be crepuscular feeders, taking their meals at dawn or dusk.
  • In most mosquito species, female mosquitoes drink blood for protein that is essential to produce eggs before or after mating. Some species are capable of drinking as much as three times their bodyweight.
  • Particularly before they begin mating, female mosquitoes, like their male counterparts, subsist on the sugar from fruit and flower nectar.
  • The mosquito is a food source for birds, bats, amphibians, reptiles, and other animals, despite being a fairly well adapted hunter itself.

Mosquitoes in the U. S. of A.

A map showing mosquito ranges

This map shows the potential ranges of the invasive mosquito species Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictis in the United States, but does not detail the mosquitoes’ populations or risk of disease transmission. Aedes aegypti is a known carrier of the Zika Virus. Aedes albopictis is not confirmed as a vector here, but could become a viable transmitter of Zika and other diseases. [Image: www.cdc.gov/]

Though West Nile Virus is now endemic in California, mosquito-borne illnesses like Chikungunya, Yellow Fever, Dengue, Malaria, and other dangerous infections are not common in the continental United States. From a historical standpoint, and as a sweeping general rule, the roughly 200 species of mosquitoes in the U.S. tend to be a nuisance to folks spending time outdoors rather than a transmitter of diseases. We’ve been very fortunate in that way.

However, these days, particularly while discussing mosquitoes, we can’t help but talk about the very present context of the Zika Virus and other mosquito-borne diseases. Aedes aegypti has been indicated as the primary agent of Zika, largely because it favors living in close proximity to its preferred food source: humans. Aedes aegypti enjoys a comfortable potential range that would extend throughout much of the southern and coastal portions of the U.S. where weather and temperature are a bit more within the mosquito’s varied tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate preferences. And, well, it’s just good practice to prevent or avoid mosquito bites by any reasonable means, regardless of Zika or any other illness, no matter where you live.

Ways to Naturally Prevent Mosquito Bites and Hinder Population Growth

[Image: www.mosquitomagnet.com]

It looks like a great place to clean your feathers, but it’s not a good idea to have one of these hanging around without also having a way to mitigate the mosquito eggs that could hatch from the waters. [Image: www.mosquitomagnet.com/]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states on its website, “The best way to prevent Zika and other viruses spread through mosquito bites is to prevent mosquito bites.” Well, when you put it like that, CDC! Thankfully, there are many easy and natural ways to reduce the incidence of mosquito presence and mosquito bites.

  • Wear protective clothing. You can wear long sleeves and pants to reduce the area a mosquito can dig in. Or if it’s just too unbearable to wear that much fabric, you can wear bug spray, DEET, or any number of other topical remedies. Just be sure if you’re wearing sunscreen. too, you apply insect repellent last. Or, as we’ll get to in a minute, there’s an alternative to any of that smelly stuff.
  • If the water’s standing, flip it over. Or use it to water a plant. Birdbaths may be quaint, but they are mosquito nurseries. Rainwater repositories, horse or livestock water troughs, your dog’s outside water bowl, a non-aerated koi pond, and any other number of vestibules and yard items can contribute to your home’s immediate mosquito population. You can mitigate this by simply taking steps to make sure water isn’t sitting or stagnating for days after rain.
  • Herbs and flowers can save your skin. You can plant and grow mosquito repellent plants. Do some research about what grows best in your climate, but trust in the staples like peppermint, lemongrass, basil, garlic, the popular citronella, and even catnip! Most of these plants can be bought already grown, are fairly easy to maintain, and have uses beyond driving bugs away.
  • Choose a repeller you trust. In the spirit of saving the very best for last, you’re probably aware by now that there’s a virtually odorless mosquito repellent with a 98 percent effectiveness rating that requires no oily bodily application. Our favorite way to reduce the chance of mosquito bites is with Thermacell® appliances that wield allethrin, a synthetic copy of the natural mosquito repellent found in chrysanthemums that forms a 15′ by 15′ shield around your outdoor work or hangout space. You can find out how this terrific tool works here.

Thermacell logo.

A combination of all these solutions are the ideal way of reducing incidence of mosquito interaction around your home or campsite, but you’d do well to keep your Thermacell appliance nearby wherever you are. [Image: www.thermacell.com/]

For all the frustration mosquitoes might impose on our lives, the world is just too great and offers too many nature-packed reasons to warrant a life confined to netted spaces or freezing climates. Download a Pocket Ranger® mobile app, gear up with your Thermacell®, get out there, and explore!