As the weather cools this fall, bats around the state are mating and entering hibernation.
White Nose Syndrome, a deadly fungal disease which can devastate bat populations, first appeared in southern Indiana caves in February 2011. Based on the latest information available to local scientists, White Nose Syndrome does not appear to have killed substantial numbers of bats.
Joy O’Keefe, an Indiana State University biology professor, works with the Center for North American Bat Research and Conservation.
“We haven’t seen any declines in our cave roosting bats this summer as compared to previous summers,” O’Keefe says. “So, from the summer survey perspective, the bat populations look normal and healthy.”
Winter hibernation is a critical time for bats. If infected with White Nose Syndrome, the bats will wake up during hibernation and leave the caves in search of food – at a time when insects are scarce. Scavenging for food burns energy, and many sick bats do not have enough fat to survive on until spring.
O’Keefe says researchers look for signs of bat health during the summer months that can provide some information on how the bats will fare during winter months.
“In years following the onset of the disease, they would first find bats that had some signs of damage to their wings when they were catching bats in the summer,” O’Keefe says. “Then the next summer and the summer after that, they just wouldn’t catch those bats, an indication that white nose had a significant impact on the population, but we haven’t seen those kinds of declines here.”
To slow the spread of White Nose Syndrome, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) closed all but one state-owned cave to visitors in 2009. DNR wildlife biologist Scott Johnson says the state will conduct winter population surveys, with results available next spring.