Deadly disease devastates northeast bat population

New Haven

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH)– A deadly disease is killing millions of bats across the country,

and a team from Southern Connecticut State University is trying to keep it from spreading. The little brown bat, once as common as mice, is about to join the endangered species list.

There is a lab at SCSU that looks like the set of a scary movie, with dead bats lying on trays, but the only scary thing here is what they’re researching: “white nose syndrome” in bats.

Professor Miranda Dunbar at Southern Connecticut State University has been studying the problem.

“It is a fungus and it is in these caves and mines that bats are hibernating in,” explains SCSU Biology Professor Miranda Dunbar. “Once the bat enters the cave for the winter months, they become infected with this fungus.”

Then they die within a couple months. White nose in those caves has already killed an estimated 7 million bats, and getting them out of those caves is tough.

“They naturally will chose a cave,” Dr. Dunbar said. “A cave is a happy place to spend the winter. So if we could perhaps mimic those conditions or alleviate the spread of this disease, would be helpful.”

That is the idea behind what look like several wooden boxes currently hanging in trees around the Southern campus. Those boxes are actually bat houses, custom built by student and researcher Chris Wisniewski.

“Inside there are grooves in the wood,” explains Wisniewski, “which allows the bats to latch on and kind of crawl up into the house itself and roost.”

You may be wondering why you should care about the bat population, because you may think of bats as those icky things terrorizing people in horror movies. It turns out, bats are one of nature’s best mosquito hunters. So if you’re tired of swatting at bugs all summer long, you want bats around.

Wisniewski built three houses and put them up around Southern’s campus, near water and meadows, with plenty of mosquitoes.

“We have two of the smaller houses that can hold about a dozen or so bats,” Wisniewski said. “We have the big maternity colony that can hold 150 bats.”

That is just a fraction of what is needed to save a species that used to be all over Connecticut.

“This once very common species, within a few years, is now endangered and likely will be extinct,” Dr. Dunbar said.

They think the little brown bat will end up on the endangered species list soon. They’d like to see more people put up bat houses. The ones at SCSU have been up for a few weeks now. No bats have moved in yet, but the hope is they will find the houses before the winter hibernation season.

If you’d like to try to build your own bat house, you can see a video tutorial here. For more information about bats, click here and here.

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