The plight of the bats

Scott Rando
Posted 3/1/17

During the cold months of winter, the average person doesn’t think about bats; there are none to be seen outdoors or in the attic, where they may roost during the day in the summer. Now is the …

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The plight of the bats

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During the cold months of winter, the average person doesn’t think about bats; there are none to be seen outdoors or in the attic, where they may roost during the day in the summer. Now is the season when bats in our region are literally fighting for their lives, as they attempt to survive the winter hibernation period. The problem in recent years has been white-nose syndrome (WNS). This is a fungal pathogen that irritates infected bats and causes them to rouse and expend energy too quickly as they hibernate. It was found that bats suffered 100% mortality in some hibernacula.


White-nose syndrome has been the focus of investigation by multiple state and federal agencies in the Northeast over the past several years. Closing critical hibernacula to foot traffic was tried first, and over the years, surveys and treatment experiments have been performed in various locations in an effort to halt the decline in bat populations. To that end, the PA Fish and Game Commission (PGC) has been performing some work in the field, and published a report during July of last year outlining findings of Indiana bat hibernacula surveys.


Some of the preliminary findings suggest that the arousal patterns of little brown bat WNS survivors (whose infection was confirmed by UV light, but had survived a hibernation period) returned to pre-WNS observations. Also, juvenile bats were found to suffer much greater WNS mortality than adults in hibernacula. It should be mentioned that even though the target of the survey was the Indiana bat, the PGC found multiple species of bats in many caves surveyed, and they recorded data from the other species found.


Perhaps the most significant finding is the treatment experiment performed using PEG 8000. PEG 8000 is a high molecular-weight form of polyethylene glycol used in lab and pharmaceutical applications. Preliminary data has shown that while applying PEG 8000 directly to bats does not prevent infection, application of PEG 8000 to roost structure is effective. PEG 8000’s mechanism of control appears to be to inhibit the germination of spores of the fungus that causes WNS. The annual job report for this project brings to light several more aspects of survey results of bat hibernacula. It’s on the PGC site at https://tinyurl.com/zt32tfn.

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