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White-Nose Syndrome Plague Connecticut's Valuable Bat Population

Several species of bats that call Connecticut home have been devastated by white-nose syndrome, so much so that in 2015 three species were listed as endangered on Connecticut’s List of Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern Species.
Several species of bats that call Connecticut home have been devastated by white-nose syndrome, so much so that in 2015 three species were listed as endangered on Connecticut’s List of Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern Species. Photo Credit: Paul J. Fusco / CT DEEP-Wildlife

As Halloween approaches, images of bats are everywhere -- from decorations to super-hero costumes and haunted house tours. But in recent years, bats have received far more tricks than treats, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

In the past decade, the disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS) has killed millions of bats throughout the Northeast and in Connecticut, having spread to 31 states and five Canadian provinces. The threat posed to our ecosystem and our economy is one of the most serious conservation challenges we face:

  • Bats are the single largest predator of night-flying insects. A single colony of big brown bats can eat 1.3 million insects every year — nearly 9,000 insects per bat.
  • The value of this insect control to agriculture in the U.S. averages $22.9 billion each year.
  • This does not include the ecosystem benefits provided by keeping insects populations in check, which has ripple effects in many areas such as the forest products industry.

The species affected by WNS are known as “cave bats.” In Connecticut, they include the little brown, northern long-eared, tri-colored, big brown, eastern small-footed, and Indiana bats. All of these species, except the big brown bat, are now listed as endangered under the Connecticut Endangered Species Act, DEEP said.

In 2015, as a direct consequence of WNS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the northern long-eared bat as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. This species, once common in Connecticut and the Northeast, is now considered to be at risk of becoming endangered soon, DEEP said.

Meanwhile, biologists and researchers are racing to determine whether there are safe and effective ways to treat or control the fungus that causes WNS.

Many of these efforts have been supported by the State Wildlife Grant program, a critical source of funding for addressing urgent wildlife disease issues.

Since 2007, DEEP has been an active participant in WNS response. Biologists continue to monitor for signs of WNS in bats and document mortality, survivorship, and reproductive success. Click here for more information on white-nose syndrome and related conservation efforts.

“Halloween is great time to dispel myths about bats,” said Jenny Dickson, a supervising wildlife biologist for the DEEP Wildlife Division. “Rather than harbingers of doom, bats are crucial for healthy ecosystems and provide tremendous economic benefits to agriculture and forestry by controlling insects.”

“Learning more about bats and the important role they play in healthy ecosystems would be a great Halloween ‘treat’ for this troubled and misunderstood group of animals,” added Dickson. “Knowing why bats matter is an important part of efforts to halt the devastation caused by white-nose syndrome.”

Want to learn more about bats? Click here to check out DEEP’s Connecticut Fish and Wildlife Facebook page for facts, photos, and videos about bats. You can also make a difference by celebrating Bat Week from Oct. 24 to 31 and helping to spread the word about the importance of bats.

As cooler weather approaches and bats settle down to hibernate, the DEEP encourages Connecticut residents to help in monitoring WNS by reporting bats observed outdoors during winter.

While the characteristic white fungal growth may not be readily visible on a bat’s nose, bats observed outside between mid-November and March are a sign that WNS may be at work.

Details about what you observed, including the date, location, and digital photos if possible, may be submitted to the DEEP Wildlife Division at deep.batprogram@ct.gov or by calling the Wildlife Division at 860-424-3011.

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