Stateside: A fungus threatening Michigan's bats

Oct 23, 2012

There is a disruption in our caves. Hibernating bats across the United States are suffering from white-nose syndrome. Named after the white fungus that grows on bats’ muzzles, the disease has killed millions of bats across North America.

Allen Kurta, a biology professor at Eastern Michigan University, spoke with Stateside’s Cyndy Canty about the future of Michigan’s bat population.

“We are dealing with a disease that is potentially going to wipe out numerous species of bats,” said Kurta.

Kurta helped provide insight into the disease.

“White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus. It wakes bats up from hibernation too frequently, once every week. In order to go from a hibernating temp of 45 degrees, raise their body to 99 degrees and then go back to 45, requires as much as energy as they would use in 60 days of continuous hibernation. Because they wake up frequently, they run out of fat by early February and die of starvation.”

For now, Michigan bats are unaffected by the disease. The isolated location of the bats’ hibernacula has served as a protection from white-nose syndrome.

“Michigan bats hibernate in the mines of the western upper peninsula, that isolation has delayed the arrival of the fungus,” said Kurta.

But the fungus’ spread to Michigan is becoming an imminent threat.

“One of the ways they are trying to slow the spread is to keep people out of where bats hibernate in the winter,” said Kurta

Kurta claims people were probably what brought the fungus to North America.

For an animal whose representation in popular culture is eerie and ominous, Kurta treats bats with a distinct amount of care and attention.

What draws him to bats?

“Bats are such neat creatures. They have the largest babies of all mammals. They are very small animals but despite being so small, they live a long time,” said Kurta.

-Cameron Stewart

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