White-Nose Syndrome Reaches Missouri

White-nose Syndrome (WNS) continues to spread north, south, and west. It was discovered earlier this year in Ontario and Tennessee. It has now also been confirmed in a Missouri cave.

In mid-April, 2010, the Missouri Department of Conservation confirmed Missouri’s first signs of a new disease in bats that scientists have named “White-Nose Syndrome.” The name describes a white fungus, Geomyces destructans, typically found on the faces and wings of infected bats.
MDC monitoring new bat disease in Missouri, Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC)

White-Nose Syndrome and Bat Hibernation Areas – April 19, 2010, Bat Conservation International
White-Nose Syndrome and Bat Hibernation Areas - April 19, 2010

This is the westernmost spread of WNS since it was first discovered in bat winter-hibernation caves – hibernacula – in New York in the Winter of 2006-2007. This reaches far past even the discovery of WNS in Tennessee, within the bounds of Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Biologists at Great Smoky Mountains National Park have received confirmation that one Little Brown bat collected from its hibernating refuge in the Park’s White Oak Blowhole cave tested positive for Geomyces destructans [the fungus and the presumptive causative agent of White Nose Syndrome (WNS)]. White Oak Blowhole cave contains the largest known Indiana bat hibernacula in Tennessee. The Indiana bat is a federally listed endangered species which has seen declines in the Northeastern U.S. due to WNS. White Nose Syndrome has killed in excess of 90% of the bats in many of the caves and mines in the Northeast, and is just now showing up in the Southeast.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Bat Tests Positive for White Nose Syndrome Fungus, Press release, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 2010-04-19

I put up my bat house two years ago in response to learning about WNS. I fear it may never receive any tenants. Without critical scientific breakthroughs on the mortality of this disease, we may see the extinction of several bat species within a decade.

The new bat house

Mortality rates approaching 100 percent are reported at some sites. White-nose Syndrome has now moved into Canada, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee and Maryland. It threatens some of the largest hibernation caves for endangered Indiana myotis, gray myotis, and Virginia big-eared bats. Ultimately, bats across North America are at imminent risk.
White-Nose Syndrome, Bat Conservation International


Related Content

Bats, Bat Houses, and White-Nose Syndrome, 2009-03-26
Bat Houses, 2008-04-13
Northeastern Bats in Peril, 2008-03-18


Great Smoky Mountains National Park Bat Tests Positive for White Nose Syndrome Fungus, Press release, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 2010-04-19
MDC monitoring new bat disease in Missouri, Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC)
White-Nose Syndrome, Bat Conservation International

Bats, Bat Houses, and White-Nose Syndrome 2009

Mosquito control is a perennial topic on the Flatbush Family Network, one of the numerous email discussion groups which cover the different neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Bat houses invariably come up as a way of attracting a natural predator to keep mosquito populations in check. Here I’m reprising and updating my posts on these and related topics from last year.

White-Nose Syndrome (WNS)

Last Spring I wrote about White-Nose Syndrome (WNS). A breakthrough that occurred just in the past few months is that the “White-Nose” has been identified as a group of previously unknown species of Geomyces fungus. It’s still unknown whether it’s a symptom – such as an opportunistic infection – or a cause or contributor.

Bats exhibiting white-nose syndrome in Hailes Cave, Albany County, NY, one of the first caves in which WNS was observed. Photo: Nancy Heaslip, NYS DEC.

Bob Hoke of the District of Columbia Grotto (DCG) of the National Speleological Society (NSS) maintains an excellent chronology of WNS news and understanding. WNS has already killed hundreds of thousands of bats across the northeast over the past four winters. Mortality has been as high as 90% in some caves. It’s estimated that 75% of northeastern bats have died in just four years. Unfortunately, it continues to spread; for the first time, it’s also been found or suspected in New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylania, Virginia and West Virginia.

Map of occurrence of White Nose Syndrome by county as of March 4, 2009. WNS was later confirmed in Virginia. Credit: courtesy of Cal Butchkoski, Pennsylvania Game Commission
Counties with White Nose Syndrome

Because of the high mortality, rapid spread, and still-unknown causes of the disease, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (US FWS) has issued a cave advisory to suspend all caving activities in affected states, and take precautions in states where WNS has not yet been detected:

The evidence collected to date indicates that human activity in caves and mines may be assisting the spread of WNS. Therefore, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is recommending actions to reduce the risks of further spread of WNS:

  1. A voluntary moratorium on caving in states with confirmed WNS and all adjoining states;
  2. Nationally, in states not WNS-affected or adjoining states, use clothing and gear that has never been in caves in WNS-affected or adjoining states;
  3. State and federal conservation agencies should evaluate scientific activities for their potential to spread WNS; and
  4. Nationally, researchers should use clothing and gear that has never been in caves in a WNS-affected or adjoining state.

This also applies to mines used by cavers.

These recommendations will remain in effect until the mechanisms behind transmission of WNS are understood, and/or the means to mitigate the risk of human-assisted transport are developed.

There was a big thing that came out in the environmental reports last year that chemical mosquito killers are quite bad for the environment and killed more than just mosquitoes. They might even be part of the reason why there is a bacteria/virus killing off northeastern bats. Although, scientists haven’t found anything conclusive it seems.
– via Flatbush Family Network

WNS research is ongoing, but it’s still not known what the cause is. A plausible explanation is immunodeficiency caused by environmental contamination, such as insecticides sprayed for West Nile Virus, but again, that’s just one of several hypotheses being explored by researchers. A pathogen such as a virus, bacteria or fungus is likely due to the patterns by which it’s spreading.

Bat Houses

Bat houses seem like a great idea. At night, bats eat about 1,000 pesky insects an hour. I don’t know how one attracts bats to your bat house but I’ve seen them in the evening in Prospect Park, amazing little creatures that they are.
– via Flatbush Family Network

I wrote about bat houses last year. Bats have specific requirements for roosting sites. Most of the houses I’ve seen commercially available are too small or lacking in other requirements. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) article, “Why I Built a Bat House,” contains detailed instructions for building a house that meets current knowledge about bats roosting needs.

The bat house I purchased last year from Bat Conservation International before I installed it on the side of the second floor porch – my “tree fort” – at the back of my house.
Bat House

Note that this is the time of year when bats are looking for their “summer homes.” I put mine up mid-April last year, which was a little late. I’m hoping they find it and set up house this year!

General information about bats

Is there ANY danger to my 4 year old son? Do bats poop/pee/spit anything bad for him? Do they really only come out at night?
– via Flatbush Family Network

Bats really do only come out at night. You’re most likely to see them at dusk, when they leave their roosts, and dawn, when they return. At the end of last summer, I saw a few on my block flying amidst the gaps between the canopies of the street trees. They seemed to be feasting on the insects attracted to the street lights.

Many people are concerned about rabies. While sensible caution is warranted, the risk is extremely low. In New York City, you’re more likely to contract West Nile Virus (WNV), which bats help combat by eating mosquitoes which carry the virus. If you see any normally nocturnal animal – such as a bat, raccoon or opossum – out in the open during the day, keep children and pets away from it and notify animal control by calling 311.


Related Content

Rabies in NYC: Facts and Figures, 2008-07-08
Bat Houses, 2008-04-13
Northeastern Bats in Peril, 2008-03-18
Other posts about bats



Bats of New York, Eileen Stegemann and Al Hicks, Conservationist, February 2008, NYSDEC
Bat Conservation International (BCI)

Bat Houses

Why I Built a Bat House, Carla Brown, National Wildlife Federation (NWF) (H/T Sara S. via Flatbush Family Network)
Bats Wanted, Al Hicks and Eileen Stegemann, Conservationist, February 2008, NYSDEC
The importance of bat houses, Organization for Bat Conservation
The Bat House Forum

White-Nose Syndrome

An excellent chronology of WNS is maintained by Bob Hoke of the District of Columbia Grotto (DCG) of the National Speleological Society (NSS).

White-Nose Syndrome Confirmed in VA Bats, WHSV, Richmond, VA, 2009-04-02
Cave activity discouraged to help protect bats from deadly white-nose syndrome, Press Release, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2009-03-26
Fungus Kills About 90 Percent Of Connecticut’s Bats, Rinker Buck, Hartford Courant, 2009-03-18 (H/T NewYorkology via Twitter)
Newly Identified Fungus Implicated in White-Nose Syndrome in Bats, Press Release, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), 2008-10-31
Bats dying off across western Maine, Maine Sun Journal, 2008-07-19 (H/T Center for Biological Diversity)
Dying Bats in the Northeast Remain a Mystery, USGS Newsroom, 2008-05-09
First It Was Bees, Now It’s Bats That Are Dying, Natural News, 2008-04-11
Bats in the Region Are Dying From a Mysterious Ailment, Litchfield County Times, 2008-04-03
Bats Perish, and No One Knows Why, New York Times Science Section, 2008-03-25
Bat Die-Off Prompts Investigation, Environment DEC, March 2008, NYSDEC

White-nose Syndrome Threatens New York’s Bats, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC)
White-Nose Syndrome, Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC)
White-Nose Syndrome in bats: Something is killing our bats, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Northeast Region

Mystery Disease Kills U.S. Bats, Bat Conservation International
Bat Crisis: The White-Nose Syndrome, Center for Biological Diversity
White Nose Syndrome Page, Liaison on White Nose Syndrome, National Speleological Society (NSS)

Something is killing our bats: The white-nose syndrome mystery, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Wikipedia: White-nose syndrome

2008 Wrap-up

A young raccoon in my backyard in Flatbush, Brooklyn in June of 2008. My post about them was in the top five of 2008, measured both by visits and number of comments.
Flatbush Raccoon

It was a year of great changes and terrible losses for me. I began 2008 by taking classes at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden toward a Certificate in Horticulture, which I hope to complete by the end of this year. I remain involved in the gardening activism of Sustainable Flatbush, both in the Gardening Committee, and in the Flatbush CommUNITY Garden. I organized a Brooklyn Blogade, a meeting of bloggers, at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and helped with the 2008 annual Blogfest. I also lost two of my best friends: my cat, Spot, at the beginning of the year, and my father, Jerry, just four weeks ago.

To see out this old year and welcome in the new one, I thought I’d review and recap some of what I’ve written for this blog during 2008, and your responses to it.

Overall stats

Number of posts published: 236 (averaging 2 posts every 3 days)
Busiest month: April, with 38 posts (more than 1 per day)
Slowest month: November, with only 10 posts (1 every 3 days)

22,896 people visited this blog during 2008. There were 32,073 visits, an average of 88 per day. About 70% were first-time visitors.

Greatest Hits of 2008

The most popular content on the blog.

By visits

According to Google Analytics, from which I’ve collected these stats, “unique page views” are the number of visits during which a page was viewed. Page views are higher, since the same page may be viewed multiple times during a single visit. Unique pageviews, however, doesn’t distinguish multiple visits from the same person or IP address.

  1. (Magi)Cicada Watch, about the Brood XIV Magicicadas, which unfortunately have been extirpated in Brooklyn, 2008-05-21, 763 visits
  2. Flatbush Rezoning Proposal will define the future of Victorian Flatbush, my report on a public hearing and analysis of the proposal, 2008-06-13, 483 visits
  3. Summer Nights, my photographic report on raccoons in my backyard, 2008-06-26, 405 visits
  4. Sources of Plants for Brooklyn Gardeners, 2008-04-29, 367 visits
  5. These two posts, both of them memorials, are close enough to call it a tie:

Special mention goes to my tutorial on the OASIS mapping service. Although I wrote it in February of 2007, almost two years ago, it was the third most popular page during 2008, with 433 unique page views. It’s got “legs”.

By comments

It’s interesting to me that my two most commented posts this year were both obituaries. It’s been a year of big changes in my life.

  1. Spot, 2008-02-23, 14 comments
  2. Gerard Kreussling, 1931-2008, 2008-12-01, 12 comments
  3. Summer Nights, my photographic report on raccoons in my backyard, 2008-06-26, 11 comments
  4. Snake in the Garden, Prospect Park, about a guy ripping branches off a cherry tree, 2008-04-26, 10 comments
  5. Three-way tie, with 9 comments each:

In case you missed it

Here are some other posts that remain relevant, interesting, or which I’m otherwise proud of.

Bat Houses

Corrected 2008.04.17: Restored missing photos. Other edits.
Updated 2008.04.16: In response to Manhattan Users Guide, provided additional explanation of why I put up a bat house: to help prevent their extinction.
Updated 2008.04.15: Added inline links, plus link to BatCatalog, BCI’s online store.

The new bat house

Today I installed my first bat house, on the side of my tree fort, the second floor porch on the back of our house. It’s a two-chambered house which I purchased online three weeks ago from BatCatalog, the online store of Bat Conservation International (BCI). (Disclosure: I’m a supporting member of BCI.)

BCI has free plans for a single-chambered house [PDF] on their Web site, and they have a handbook of many different plans for folks to design and build their own houses. I chose a pre-built house, for my first one. Because it’s my first, I wanted one that was well-designed and built. I also wanted to get one installed in time, possibly, for this year’s summer breeding season. I’m handy, but I procrastinate; if I started building a house now, I’d be lucky if I got it done for NEXT year.


Why build (or buy) and install a bat house?

I know some of you are thinking, “WHY?!”

Why build a bat house? The simple answer is because having bats in the area is an easy way to observe nature at her finest, and the bats will provide a guaranteed show every warm evening of the summer season. Bats are insect eating-machines that may help keep troublesome insect populations in check. In addition, providing bat houses is one method of encouraging bats to relocate their colonies out of buildings.
Bats Wanted, Conservationist, February 2008, NYS DEC

This year, there is an additional, more urgent, reason. I wrote a few weeks ago about the disease that is wiping out bats hibernating in their Winter colonies across the northeast. The disease has been confirmed in four states so far: New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Mortality has been estimated to be as high as 90% in some of their hibernation caves. If the cause cannot be discovered and eliminated, we may lose entire species of bats in just a few years.

Bats are not prolific breeders. A mating pair may have a single pup a season. Even if scientists find a cause for the disease, and can prevent further mortality, it will take decades for bats to recover the numbers they’ve lost in a single season.

Artificial roosts, such as my new bat house, are bats’ “summer homes” and, more important, their nurseries: they use these to bear and raise their young. It’s my hope that by creating more summer roosting and nursery sites, we can increase their health and rates of survival during the year. They need all the help we can give them.

Where can bat houses be used?

Where will bat houses be effective? And where should they be placed? The answer, if familiar, is location, location, and location:

  • It should be located near fresh water, no more than 1/2 mile away. Houses within 1/4 mile have higher rates of occupancy.
  • The house must be mounted at least 12 feet high, either on a free-standing pole or the side of a building.
  • Away from bright lights.
  • They must be away from tree limbs and other aerial barriers such as wires which can create obstacles to finding the bat house or provide launches for predators.

In an urban area, it’s a challenge to find these conditions. I live just over a half-mile, as the bat flies, from Prospect Lake in Prospect Park, the largest body of fresh water around. But my area is more suburban than urban, with large lots and open yards. Many of my neighbors have “water features” in their gardens: ponds or pools which can serve as alternate sources of fresh water.

The bat house in place
The bat house in place

I think I have a good place for my bat house: on the side of my tree fort, facing south-southeast. The garden beds below are in full sun all summer. Even in Winter, when the sun is low and the beds are shaded by our neighbor’s house, the bat house is mounted high enough to receive full sun. My neighbor has a security light, but the house is placed behind its main field of illumination, out of direct line of the light itself.

Most nursery colonies of bats choose roosts within 1/4 mile of water, preferably a stream, river or lake. Greatest bat-house success has been achieved in areas of diverse habitat, especially where there is a mixture of varied agricultural use and natural vegetation. Bat houses are most likely to succeed in regions where bats are already attempting to live in buildings.
Criteria for Successful Bat Houses [PDF], BCI

Bat houses should be mounted on buildings or poles. Houses mounted on trees or metal siding are seldom used. Wood, brick or stone buildings with proper solar exposure are excellent choices, and houses mounted under eaves are often successful. Single-chamber houses work best when mounted on buildings. Mounting two bat houses back-to-back on poles (with one facing north and the other south) is ideal. Place houses 3/4-inch apart and cover both with a galvanized metal roof to protect the center roosting space from rain. All bat houses should be mounted at least 12 feet above ground, and 15 to 20 feet is better. Bat houses should not be lit by bright lights.
Criteria for Successful Bat Houses [PDF], BCI

Houses mounted on the sides of buildings or on metal poles provide the best protection from predators. Metal predator guards may be helpful, especially on wooden poles. Bats may find bat houses more quickly if they are located along forest or water edges where bats tend to fly. However, they should be placed at least 20 to 25 feet from the nearest tree branches, wires or other potential perches for aerial predators.
Criteria for Successful Bat Houses [PDF], BCI

Where you mount your bat house plays a major role in the internal temperature. Houses can be mounted on such structures as poles, sides of buildings and tall trees without obstructions. Houses placed on poles and structures tend to become occupied quicker than houses placed on trees. Bat houses should face south to southeast to take advantage of the morning sun. In northern states and Canada, bat houses need to receive at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. It is also advantageous to paint the house black to absorb plenty of heat (when baby bats are born, they need it very warm). Use non-toxic, latex paint to paint your bat house and only paint the outside. Your bat house should be mounted at least 15 feet above the ground, the higher the house the greater the chance of attracting bats.
Where to put up a bat house in the Northeastern United States, Organization for Bat Conservation

Bat houses installed on buildings or poles are easier for bats to locate, have greater occupancy rates and are occupied two and a half times faster than those mounted on trees.
Attracting Bats [PDF], BCI

What makes a well-designed bat house?

The bat house before installation
Bat House

Successful bat houses are much larger than one might think. Take a look at the photo above. The house is leaning against a table of standard height. That’s a garden spade next to the bat house for scale.

Bats are communal creatures. Because they’re so small, they need each other to keep warm at night. The more bats, the better. The larger the bat house, the better. This is especially important for infant survival in nursery colonies. My relatively small two-chambered bat house can shelter up to 100-150 bats.

The spacing of the chambers is important. Just large enough that the bats can crawl up inside, small enough to reduce the attractiveness to potential problem nest-builders like wasps and hornets.

The bottom of the bat house is open. Guano will fall down to the ground below. It doesn’t collect in the bat house, so it doesn’t need to get cleaned out.

The key to a successful bat house in the northeast’s cooler climate is to keep the house hot. Be sure to seal the upper portions so that warm air cannot escape, paint the house a dark color, and place it in the sunniest location you have that is near cover and not far from water. Maintenance, such as repairing a warping exterior that no longer traps warm air, will be an issue over time, so consider providing some kind of protective cover.
Bats Wanted, Conservationist, February 2008, NYS DEC

Only in the most extreme southwest should bat houses be painted a light color. In my area, a dark brown would also work with a bat house placed in ideal conditions. Because my bat house is backed by an open porch, and not the house itself, I chose the darkest color, a flat black, to compensate for the lack of insulation one would get from mounting on the side of a house.

When should bat houses be installed?

According to DEC’s Conservationist magazine, in New York State, bat houses are most likely to attract either little brown or big brown bats. So, where do you get the bats?

Bats have to find new roosts on their own. Existing evidence strongly suggests that lures or attractants (including bat guano) will NOT attract bats to a bat house. Bats investigate new roosting opportunities while foraging at night, and they are expert at detecting crevices, cracks, nooks and crannies that offer shelter from the elements and predators.
Attracting Bats [PDF], BCI

Bat houses can be installed at any time. However, it may take up to two years for bats to “adopt” a shelter. The best time to install a new bat house is in late Winter/early Spring, before bats emerge from winter hibernation and begin seeking summer nursery sites. I saw a bat flying at dusk at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden last Thursday, during our botany class walkaround. Now may be too late for my bat house for this year. We’ll see what happens.

Bats return from migration and awaken from hibernation as early as March in most of the U.S., but stay active year-round in the extreme southern U.S. They will be abundant through out the summer and into late fall. Most houses used by bats are occupied in the first 1 to 6 months (during the first summer the bat house was erected). If bats do not roost in your house by the end of the second summer, move the house to another location.
Where to put up a bat house in the Northeastern United States, Organization for Bat Conservation


Related Content

Northeastern Bats in Peril, March 18, 2008
Other posts about bats and White-Nose Syndrome


Bats Wanted, Conservationist, February 2008, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Bat Conservation International (BCI)
BatCatalog, BCI’s online store
The importance of bat houses, Organization for Bat Conservation
The Bat House Forum
Wikipedia: Bats

Northeastern Bats in Peril

Bat House at the East 4th Street Community Garden in Kensington/Windsor Terrace
Bat House

A discussion thread about mosquito control on the Flatbush Family Network led to this question:

I heard that bat houses are a possible long-term solution for mosquitos. I guess you put a bat house up and hope that they come and live there. It can take a few seasons to get them to do it but an average bat eats lots of mosquitos a day. Seems strange to try and seduce bats to your house but those mosquitos are terrible. Anyone else heard about these bat houses?

The photo above is of a bat house in the East 4th Street Community Garden, which I visited for the first time last November. One of the questions they get when they explain what it’s for is, “Where do you get the bats?” If you build it, they will come. We have bats here in Brooklyn. Whether we will continue to have them is in question.

A newly emerging epidemic is wiping out bat colonies. First discovered last winter in a single cave near Albany, New York, this winter it’s been found to have spread to more locations, including sites in Vermont and Massachusetts. Mortality has been as high as 90% in some caves:

Thousands of hibernating bats are dying in caves in New York State and Vermont from unknown causes … The most obvious symptom involved in the die-off is a white fungus encircling the noses of some, but not all, of the bats. Called “white-nose syndrome,” the fungus is believed to be associated with the problem, but it may not necessarily contribute to the actual cause of death. It appears that the affected bats deplete their fat reserves months before they would normally emerge from hibernation and die as a result …

What we’ve seen so far is unprecedented,” said Alan Hicks, DEC’s bat specialist. “Most bat researchers would agree that this is the gravest threat to bats they have ever seen. We have bat researchers, laboratories and caving groups across the country working to understand the cause of the problem and ways to contain it.”
Bat Die-Off Prompts Investigation, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Bat populations are particularly vulnerable during hibernation as they congregate in large numbers in caves-clusters of 300 per square foot in some locations-making them susceptible to disturbance or disease. The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of bats known to hibernate in New York do so in just five caves and mines. Because bats often migrate hundreds of miles to their summer range, effects on hibernating bats can have significant implications for bats throughout the Northeast.

Indiana bats [Myotis sodalis], a state and federally endangered species, are perhaps the most vulnerable. Half the estimated 52,000 Indiana bats that hibernate in the state are located in just one former mine-a mine that is now infected with white-nose syndrome. Eastern pipistrelle [Perimyotis subflavus], northern long-eared [Myotis septentrionalis] and little brown [Myotis lucifugus] bats also are dying. Little brown bats, the most common hibernating species in the state, have sustained the largest number of deaths.

Related Posts

Bat Houses, April 13, 2008
Other posts about bats


Bat Die-Off Prompts Investigation, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Mystery Disease Kills U.S. Bats, Bat Conservation International
Something is killing our bats: The white-nose syndrome mystery, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Wikipedia: White-nose syndrome

Flatbush Family Network (requires membership)


Dying Bats in the Northeast Remain a Mystery, USGS Newsroom, May 9, 2008
First It Was Bees, Now It’s Bats That Are Dying, Natural News, April 11, 2008
Bats in the Region Are Dying From a Mysterious Ailment, Litchfield County Times, April 3, 2008
Bats Perish, and No One Knows Why, New York Times Science Section, March 25, 2008