Bad news doesn’t get any better just because it was expected. That’s especially true for the recent discovery of white-nose syndrome in wild bats in southern Illinois.
Bat with white-nose syndrome. Photo by USFWS Headquarters.
The finding isn’t a surprise. Since first appearing in New York in 2006, this fungal disease has spread every year. The results have been devastating for hibernating bats, with losses of up to 98 percent of infected colonies as the non-native fungus disrupts hibernation and spurs lesions and the white growth that gives the syndrome its name.
What does this mean for Illinois bats? Because white-nose syndrome was just spotted in the state, we likely won’t see any local effect for several years. Chicago-area species such as big brown bats and little brown bats are now vulnerable, though. The only bats unlikely to be affected are those that migrate to warmer climates in winter, such as red bats and hoary bats.
On the positive front, zoo scientists anticipated the spread of white-nose syndrome in launching their massive monitoring project of Chicago-area bats last year. Zoo data on healthy populations will be vital in gauging the impact of the outbreak. Our ongoing monitoring work will also help tailor conservation efforts to protect species most in need.
Healthy bats are important for healthy ecosystems. Their nocturnal feasts play a big part in keeping pests like mosquitos and crop-eating insects in check. Lincoln Park Zoo is working to help Illinois bats as they face this threat, and I encourage you to learn how you can help as well by visiting whitenosesyndrome.org.