On the verge of another season of winter hibernating bat surveys, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists and partners estimate that at least 5.7 million to 6.7 million bats have now died from white-nose syndrome.
Biologists expect the disease to continue to spread.

White-nose syndrome (WNS) is decimating bat populations across eastern North America, with mortality rates reaching up to 100 percent at many sites. First documented in New York in 2006, the disease has spread quickly into 16 states and four Canadian provinces. Bats with WNS exhibit unusual behavior during cold winter months, including flying outside during the day and clustering near the entrances of caves and mines where they hibernate. Bats have been found sick and dying in unprecedented numbers near these hibernacula.

“This startling new information illustrates the severity of the threat that white-nose syndrome poses for bats, as well as the scope of the problem facing our nation. Bats provide tremendous value to the U.S. economy as natural pest control for American farms and forests every year, while playing an essential role in helping to control insects that can spread disease to people,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan
Ashe. “We are working closely with our partners to understand the spread of this deadly disease and minimize its impacts to affected bat species.”

Estimating the total number of bat deaths has been a difficult challenge for biologists. Although consistent population counts for federally listed endangered bats, like the Indiana bat, have been a priority for state and federal biologists, establishing population counts of once “common” bat species, like little brown bats, was historically not the primary focus of seasonal bat population counts.

“White-nose syndrome has spread quickly through bat populations in eastern North America, and has caused significant mortality in many colonies,” said National WNS Coordinator, Dr. Jeremy Coleman, “Many bats were lost before we were able to establish pre-white-nose syndrome population estimates.”

More than 140 partners, including tribal, state and federal biologists and bat researchers convened in Carlisle, Pennsylvania for the 2012 Northeast Bat Working Group (NEBWG) meeting last week to discuss challenges facing bat research, management and conservation. Coordinating with wildlife officials in Canada, the group discussed population-level impacts to hibernating bats and developed the estimate of bats lost to WNS.