RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A threatened bat species heavily impacted by the rapid spread of a deadly fungus has been officially reclassified as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and faces extinction due to the disease’s wide-ranging impacts.
White-nose syndrome, the disease driving the steep decline, is caused by the growth of a fungus that appears as white fuzz on the bat’s mouth and wings.
The silent killer thrives in cold, dark, damp places and preys on hibernating northern long-eared bats, striking while the nocturnal mammals are in caves deep asleep, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
But those affected won’t stay asleep for long. The Service said the disease causes impacted bats to become restless and wake up more frequently, resulting in dehydration and starvation before spring arrives.
“This listing is an alarm bell and a call to action,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams. “White-nose syndrome is decimating cave-dwelling bat species like the northern long-eared bat at unprecedented rates. The Service is deeply committed to working with partners on a balanced approach that reduces the impacts of disease and protects the survivors to recover northern long-eared bat populations.”
While the disease doesn’t discriminate in choosing which bat species will become its next victim, in a previous study, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated white-nose syndrome to impact 100% of the northern long-eared bat’s U.S. range by 2025. As of now, the disease has spread across almost 80% of the species’ entire range, and nearly all of its U.S. range since it was listed as threatened in 2015.
The change from threatened to endangered will allow for more conservation efforts to be made with the goal of saving the northern long-eared bat from extinction. Since being listed as threatened in 2015, the Service said more than 22 habitat conservation plans have been approved to “allow wind energy and forestry projects to proceed after minimizing and mitigating their impacts to northern long-eared bats.”
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