Man-made cave might protect bats from white-nose syndrome

Photo by Microbe World, Flickr.

As we’ve reported before, bat populations around North America have been devastated by a deadly fungus know as white-nose syndrome. In June, the fungus was detected at the Maquoketa Caves in Iowa.

To help the bats, The Nature Conservancy has created a man-made cave in Tennessee meant to house bats during the winter and protect them from the fungus. The cave is about the size of a basketball court, and is equipped with video cameras.

The Nature Conservancy hopes that by monitoring the cave and cleaning it in the summer, the cave will become a fungus-free safe haven for bats.

Read more from Iowa Public Radio here.

Fungus detected on bat in Maquoketa Caves

Bat with white-nose syndrome. Photo by USFWS/Southeast, Flickr.

A low-level detection of fungus in the Maquoketa Caves leads to new precautions against spreading white-nose syndrome.

As noted on Iowa Environmental Focus in the past, white-nose syndrome is a fungal infection that has devastated bat populations in North America. Fearing the spread of infection, the Maquoketa Caves were closed for about two years before opening in April.

Recently, a swab sample taken from a bat in the Maquoketa Caves was found to contain low-levels of the fungus. Because of this, the focus at the Maquoketa Caves has switched from keeping the fungus out, to making sure the fungus does not get out.

Visitors at the caves now must walk on mats with disinfection solution. Additionally, the Department of Natural Resources will continue to educate visitors about the fungus.

Read more form the Iowa DNR here.

Maquoketa Caves to reopen

Photo by USFWS/Southeast, Flickr.

The Maquoketa Caves will open on April 14 for the first time since 2010.

The caves were closed out of fear that humans were partially responsible for spreading a fungus called White Nose Syndrome, which has killed more than 5.5 million bats in North America.

In order to enter the Maquoketa Caves, visitors will first need to attend an informative program about the risks of White Nose Syndrome.

For more information on White Nose Syndrome, check out our radio segment here.

Read the Iowa DNR’s full press release about the Maquoketa Caves’ reopening here.

Study investigates cause of bat deaths at wind farms

Wind turbines are associated with the deaths of increasingly high numbers of migrating bats, with some wind farms estimating tens of thousands of bat deaths annually. The widely-held assumption was that the turbines kill bats by generating rapid changes in air pressure in the animal’s lungs – an effect known as “barotrauma” – as they enter the low-pressure field generated by the turning blades.

However, a research team at Illinois State University, which included University of Iowa  scientist David Meyerholz, used forensic pathology to determine the exact cause of bat deaths at wind farms.

The team’s study suggests that barotrauma might not be responsible – but rather that the bats are actually colliding with the active turbine blades.

“This study raises some serious questions about the foundation of barotrauma theory in wind farm bats and simultaneously demonstrates by multiple lines of evidence that the collision theory is the basis for most of these deaths,” said University of Iowa scientist David Meyerholz.

For more information, read the full University of Iowa news release.

Senator seeks to reopen Maquoketa caves

Photo by stephadamo, Flickr.

Senator Tod Bowman has filed legislation that would force the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to reopen the caves at Maquoketa Caves State Park.

Bowman, (D) Maquoketa, says that the caves are a valuable source of entertainment and tourism for the area, and claims the park has lost tens of thousands of visitors since the caves closed in 2009.

“The people that visit the caves have a tremendous economic impact that trickle down to the main street, the businesses that you know, legislators are very concerned about,” said Bowman.

The Iowa DNR closed the caves to protect bats from a fungus known as “white nose syndrome,” but Bowman’s legislation argues that the fungus is mostly transmitted through bat-to-bat contact, and there have been no confirmed cases of white nose syndrome in Iowa.

Continue reading

On the Radio: Iowa bat population at risk

Photo by Sergi Forns, Flickr

Check out this week’s radio segment here.  It discusses a disease called white-nose syndrome that is harming bats across the U.S. and is headed toward Iowa. Continue reading

Bat population threatened by fungal infection

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Flickr

A fungus plaguing North American bats could soon make its way to Iowa. This fungal infection, known as the “white-nose syndrome” (WNS), first forms on bats’ faces and wings during hibernation, and causes them to break hibernation prematurely. Once awoken, it’s not long before the sickly mammals are found dead. Eighteen states, along with areas of Canada, have confirmed cases of WNS. The projected spread of the fungus indicates that WNS could soon hit Iowa. Suspected cases have already been found in Missouri, including near the Missouri-Iowa border. As ugaresearch reports, the rapid spread of the fungus and its fatal nature have caused considerable anxiety among wildlife pathologists:

The syndrome has so far been confirmed in nine bat species, including two (the Indiana and the gray bat) that are already endangered. The mortality rate in some colonies has been greater that 90 percent – [wildlife pathologist Kevin] Keel calls WNS “ the most devastating infectious wildlife disease we’ve ever seen.” And because many bats produce only one “pup” a year, scientists now fear that several once-common species may suffer a major population collapse that could wipe them out entirely in some regions. Continue reading