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Metroparks Officials Fear Devastating Loss Of Bats

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It’s been a hard winter…not just for people, but for some critters too. ideastream’s Brian Bull tells us about a special wintertime threat to one group of hibernating mammals.

Monday, May 5, 2014 at 8:48 pm

This time of year finds bats waking up from hibernation, and leaving their caves.

“We’re headed to some caves in Liberty Park, in Twinsburg Ohio," says Marlo Perdicas, a Metroparks biologist and bat enthusiast. She's leading me down a muddy trail flanked by trees and jutting ledges. We stop outside a dark, narrow opening covered in moss and fallen branches.

"These caves do harbor hibernating bats,” she explains. Perdicas is concerned about a fungal disease known as White Nose Syndrome. She’s seen what it can do.

“It was very heartbreaking,” she says, recalling times dead bats were found outside the cave entrance, in the snow.

90 to 99 percent of bats exposed to White Nose Syndrome die. It’s killed millions of North American bats since it first appeared in New York eight years ago. It appears as white fuzz across a bat’s face, wings, and tail. It disrupts their winter hibernation cycle when their metabolism and immune systems are naturally depressed.

It’s been found now in half of the U.S. states, including Ohio.

At Liberty Park, Perdicas figures the bat population is under a thousand; there were 10 times that many before the disease hit.

“Typically we would catch a couple hundred bats throughout our survey season, in the summertime in our metro parks.

"Last year we captured one.”

It matters because bats are an important part of the ecosystem; they pollinate various fruits and are the only major predator of night flying insects. One bat can consume up to seven thousand mosquitoes a night.

There is some hope. Back in New York, a small percentage of bats have developed resistance to the disease.

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