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White-Nose Syndrome Wiping Out PA's Bat Population

Since February 2006 when it was first discovered, White-Nose Syndrome has caused the deaths of 5.7 million to 6.7 million North American bats, many of those in Pennsylvania.

Greg Turner is a wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Diversity Section of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. He counts and identifies hibernating bats and conducts migratory telemetry on our federally endangered Indiana bats.

When searching the abandoned Durham Mine in Bucks County, he found just 23 were alive and over 10,000 bats were dead.

“Well this has been occurring since about 2009," Turner said. "The bats actually for the most part fly out in the middle of winter and die on the landscapes. So it’s been a process over the last few years where we’ve just seen the bats flying out and not returning. Going into the site this year was more along the lines of a ghost town.”

But he wasn’t surprised.

“I’ve been seeing this occur again and again across the state," Turner said. "Right now we’re looking at about a 98-99 percent overall decline in our hibernating bats.”

Turner said the decline was a direct result of white-nose syndrome, and that it is by far the biggest threat to cave-dwelling bats in Pennsylvania.

“White-Nose Syndrome is a fungus that came from Europe," he said. "Once we get a disease in our wildlife like this there’s really no getting rid of it.”

Turner noted that it wasn’t just one type of bat either, as five out of the six hibernating species were present: the Big Brown Bat, the Little Brown Bats, the Northern Long Eared, the Pipistrelle and the Small Footed Bat. The only one that was missing was the Indiana Bat.

Turner explained they have yet to develop a cure.

“We’ve tried several treatments in Pennsylvania in the laboratory and in the field and all of those have actually failed," he said. "Most of the treatments have actually killed the bats. Really what it comes down to is trying to prevent the spread of this, and we have not been very successful in that regard either.”

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