Fewer Bats in Halloween Belfry


It looks like not many bats will be scaring trick-or-treaters this year.

With Halloween just days away, officials at the Central Park Zoo announced on Thursday the “Bats for the Future Fund,” a grant program that will spur the development of treatments for white-nose syndrome (WNS) affecting hibernating bats across the United States and Canada.

“The threat posed by white-nose syndrome can’t be overstated,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Director Dan Ashe, said in a press release. “It is the single biggest threat to many North American bats and one of the most pressing conservation challenges facing America’s wildlife today.”

Named for a white, cold-loving fungus that appears on the muzzle of bats, WNS is associated with the high mortality of these mammals in eastern and mid-western North America.

The fund focuses on promoting the survival of bats in the continent by developing existing and new disease treatments and tools to slow the spread of WNS.

WNS was first documented in New York State in 2006. Since then, it has spread rapidly throughout the continent. As of May 2016, bats with the disease are confirmed to be in 29 states and five Canadian provinces, the experts said.

The disease now affects seven out of the 47 bat species living in the United States, two endangered and one threatened federally. Some may even be in danger of extinction. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, over six million bats have died over the past decade from the WNS.

Bats play a crucial role in nature by feeding on insect pests—moths and beetles—that destroy crops and forests, which can benefit the North American economy.

“We’re not going to have more insects because bats disappear,” said Rob Mies, Executive Director of the Organization for Bat Conservation. “But we’re just going to spray a lot more chemicals. It’s not healthy and it’s not economical either. That’s going to drive the price of our food up.

The flying mammals also are pollinators. Over 300 species of fruit depend on bats for pollination, including bananas and mangoes. Plus, they are also the main pollinators of tequila.

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