Tag Archives: disease

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.