Infectious Fungus May Contribute to a Rise in Insect Populations

Infectious Fungus May Contribute to a Rise in Insect Populations

Infectious Fungus May Contribute to a Rise in Insect Populations

Biologists in New Mexico fear that if white-nose syndrome, an infectious fungus that has been spreading rapidly across many states in the U.S, reaches epic proportions, it could significantly contribute to an increased number of crop damaging and disease-carrying insects.

How Can Fungus Effect Insect Populations?

Populations of insects that are known to damage crops or carry deadly diseases, like West Nile virus, may soon have one less predator to contend with. Bats hunt and eat many dangerous, damaging and disease carrying insects. Without the bats, these insect populations could prove extremely dangerous to crops and people.

How Can Fungus Effect Insect Populations

White-nose syndrome, (caused by Geomyces destructans), is an infectious cold-loving fungus that is attacking and killing several species of common bats. The fungus, which thrives in cold climates, attaches itself to the chilled bodies of hibernating bats, eating away at the skin, ears and tender wing tissue. Infected bats can be easily spotted due to the tell-tale white smudge of powder the fungus leaves on their tiny noses.

Where Did White-Nose Syndrome Come From?

According to a scientific journal, “An Emerging Disease Causes Regional Population Collapse of a Common North American Bat Species”, submitted to Science magazine,, on 6 August 2010, white-nose syndrome (WNS) was first discovered in New York State in 2006. WNS is a disease that is currently affecting at least seven different species of bat, and is expected to lead to the regional extinction of the little brown myotis (Myotis lucifugus).

The myotis have always been one of the most common species of bat found in North America, although, due to the estimated 20% reduction in the brown bats population, this is likely to change. Over a million bats are known to have died from WNS in the past several years, and unless measures can be implemented to protect these helpful little mammals, many more will become infected and die, View for effective information now.

WNS may have been brought to North American bats by European tourists, who visit the commercial caves where the bats live and hibernate. A similar fungal growth had been spotted many times, on the faces and wings of hibernating bats in Europe.

How is WNS Transmitted?

While scientists and researchers are not 100% sure how white-nose syndrome is transmitted, it is thought to be spread from bat-to-bat, cave-to-bat and from human-to-bat. It is also believed that tourists, who are touring caves, may inadvertently be spreading fungal spores from cave-to-cave on their clothing or caving gear.

What Is Being Done To Protect Bats From White-Nose Syndrome?

Officials on both the state and federal levels are taking steps to slow the spread of WNS by closing off many public caves and mines, which are known to have significant bat populations, from tourists and other visitors. Warning signs are being posted at many cavern and mine entrances across the U.S., stating that the areas are closed due to white-nose syndrome.

According to a Los Angeles Times article “Fungus sweeps across the country, killing bats”, written by Louis Sahagun, 3 April 2011, The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service was urged to list the brown bat as endangered. Thomas Kunz and Jonathan Reichard, of Boston University’s Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology, believe that listing these miniature insectivores as endangered would provide them the strongest legal protection on both public and private land.

No Quick Fix For Infected Bats Is Good News For Harmful Insects

Biologists are at a loss as to how to adequately fight WNS. A fungicide might very well kill off the fungus, but could and likely would also kill off many other needed cave microbes and organisms. Heating the cave with space heaters would keep the cold-loving fungus from feeding off the bats, but it would also disrupt the bats natural ability to hibernate. Bats hibernate during the time of year when insects die off due to cold weather. If the bats don’t go into hibernation due to the unnatural warmth in the cave, they will be unable to find food, and will inevitably starve to death.

No Quick Fix For Infected Bats Is Good News For Harmful Insects

Bats tend to have a bad reputation due in part to fictional vampire movies and other popular misconceptions. The truth is, bats eat many dangerous night-flying insects like the mosquito, which has been known to carry the West Nile virus. A significant decline in the bat population will mean a significant increase in the insect population, which is bad news for crops that could be adversely affected by harmful insects. Bats also pollinate many different species of plants, including the giant saguaro cactus. Scientists do not know what may happen if bats disappear forever.