Dying Bats, Dying Bees
Little Brown Bat
Bloomberg reported yesterday that bats in New York and Vermont are dying:
Thousands of bats are dying from an unknown illness in the northeastern U.S. at a rate that could cause extinction, New York state wildlife officials said.
At eight caves in New York and one in Vermont, scientists have seen bat populations plummet over two years. Most bats hibernate in the same cave every winter, keeping annual counts consistent. A cave that had 1,300 bats in January 2006 had 470 bats last year. It recently sheltered just 38.
At another cave, more than 90 percent of about 15,500 bats have died since 2005, and two-thirds that remain now sleep near the cave's entrance, where conditions are less hospitable. Scientists don't know what's causing the deaths, and biologists wearing sanitary clothing and respirators to prevent the spread of disease are collecting the dead for testing as part of a state and U.S. effort.
Apparently, nobody knows what's killing the bats.
Some bats in the die-off have a white fungus encircling their noses. Most living bats now are underweight, too thin to make it through the winter, Hicks said. They choose their hibernating spots based on weight. Colder resting spots, like the ones near the entrance help energy reserves last longer.
``These guys are hibernating in places you never see healthy bats hibernating,'' Hicks said.
When they're not hibernating, healthy bats eat about half their weight in bugs every night, including mosquitoes, grasshoppers, locusts and moths that can spread disease among humans and devastate crops.
Bat populations are vulnerable to disease during hibernation as they congregate in large numbers in caves, sometimes packed so densely that it's difficult to see the cavern wall behind them. In warmer months, bats migrate hundreds of miles to their summer homes, so a new disease could rapidly spread across the region, Hicks said.
And as if that weren't bad enough news, the bees are dying as well:
A separate malady known as Colony Collapse Disorder has killed millions of bees in the U.S. and threatens $14.6 billion of U.S. crops, including almonds, apples, oranges and blueberries, which rely on bees for pollination, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. It may cause $75 billion of economic damage if left unchecked, the agency said.
The illness was identified after thousands of U.S. beekeepers found unusually large losses -- 90 percent or more in some cases -- beginning in 2006. Colony Collapse has been found in 35 U.S. states, one Canadian province, and parts of Asia, Europe and South America. Scientists haven't identified the cause and believe it may be the result of several things in combination.
``You have a strong parallel with the bees in that we just don't know what's going on,'' Hicks said.
I'm no expert. But it sounds to me like something is wrong with the bats' and the bees' immune systems. The bats aren't resisting fungus (or some other invader). The bees aren't resisting a virus (or some other invader). It's as if we had released some kind of contagion in the atmosphere but don't know what it was. Or we released something that's drastically weakening immune functioning and we don't know what that is. Either way, the news is awful. It looks a lot like we're killing the planet.