Bat mortality deemed 'catastrophic' in Massachusetts

Sunday, April 12

According to Andrew Madden, the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Western District Manager, the bat mortality rates in the region has reached a 'catastrophic' level.

In his monthly report to the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen, he reported the results from recent surveys of bat hibernacula (hibernating places, typically caves and mines) in Massachusetts. The surveys have shown dramatic rates of mortality and biologists are attributing this die-off to White Nose Syndrome.

Evidence of the syndrome has appeared in bats throughout the Northeast and is now being found as far south as Virginia. In some hibernacula, bats are dying by the thousands. Mortality in some caves and mines in Massachusetts may be as high as 95 or 100 percent.

As an example, Madden mentioned that one of the biggest hibernacula (in Chester), which normally has 8,000 to 10,000 bats at this time of year, had only 150 remaining. Some of the infected bats have the characteristic white fungus on their muzzles.

Biologists don't know if the cold-loving white fungus is a symptom of WNS or the cause. They also don't know exactly how the syndrome spreads. Once the white fungus has been seen, it's only a matter of time before a high percentage of the bats are affected. The fungus spreads from their faces to their wings and tails, their behavior changes, they use up their stores of body fat, get very skinny and die.

More than a dozen research labs are currently studying the syndrome and trying to learn more about what it is, what's causing it, how it is transmitted and how to prevent it. Transmission of WNS may be bat-to-bat, or perhaps by spelunkers (cavers) who may be carrying WNS on their equipment. (Footwear, clothing and gear worn or used in one cave or mine should not be used in another).

Lab researchers have focused on the possible causes of WNS, but so far there have been no viruses, bacteria or other pathogens found. Contaminants, the amount and quality of fall feeding, and the rate at which energy stored as fat is used up are also being studied.

Although WNS is not known to affect humans, bats can transmit other diseases such as rabies, so always take the precaution of wearing thick gloves when handling a bat, whether it is dead or alive. Bats groom the fungus off before flying, so you will not see white fungus on a bat that leaves its hibernaculum.

Biologists say that the biggest impact is on the little brown bat, which is the version we often see cruising over our ponds, eating insects.

At this time, the affects on the insect population are unknown. Bats eat thousands of pounds of agricultural pests and nuisance species like mosquitoes every summer, so there's no telling how the changes to the bat population could ripple through the ecosystem, not to mention the human food chain.

Madden said that we are witnessing what might be the end of bats in our area. It could take decades and decades before they come back to normal populations because they normally have only one pup a year. For more information on the syndrome contact Tony Gola of the DFW Western District headquarters.

  • The Berkshire County League of Sportsmen has unveiled a new program called the One Shot Turkey Hunt. Basically, it is a fundraiser that rewards hunters who bag the largest turkey among those that have entered the contest. All birds must be harvested with a single shot and any bird that is harvested with more than one shot will be penalized 4 percent of the total score. The score is based on the largest bird, and if there is a tie, then the winner is determined by longest beard and/or the longest spurs.

    The contest will run from April 27 to May 2. The check-in deadline is at 5 p.m. There will be two categories — Gun and Archery — and if a hunter wishes to enter both, there are two separate fees. Hunters can sign up at Dave's Sporting Goods in Pittsfield or by contacting BCLS president Mark Jester at (413) 499-8482. All birds must be checked in at Dave's Sporting Goods or the MassWildlife District headquarters in Pittsfield.

    Hunters can hunt in Vermont, New York or Connecticut, but the hunter must present proof of out-of-state license and permit. Each hunter can submit as many birds as he has legal tags for, but their largest bird will be entered.

    Entrants must sign up by April 25 at 5 p.m. and the entry fee for each category is $25, which includes a dinner at 1 p.m. at the Cheshire Rod & Gun Club on May 3. (Be sure to check the rules and the check-in locations, as they are still being determined at the time of this writing.)

    This year, the proceeds from the event will be donated to the Massachusetts Junior Conservation Camp. Next year, the proceeds will be donated to another worthy organization such as the Massachusetts Outdoor Heritage Foundation.

  • Waters scheduled for trout stocking last week: Buckland, Charlemont and Florida — Deerfield River, Clarksburg — Hoosic River, Hudson Brook; Cummington, Windsor, Savoy, Russell — Westfield River , Dalton — Housatonic River, Wahconah Falls Brook; West Stockbridge — Williams River, Great Barrington — Williams River, Mansfield Lake; Hinsdale - Bennett Brook, Housatonic River; Lanesborough — Town Brook, Lee — Hop Brook, Laurel Lake, Housatonic River (C&R); North Adams — Windsor Lake; Otis — Otis Reservoir, Big Benton Pond, Pittsfield - Onota Lake, Sandisfield — Buck River, Clam River; Stockbridge — Housatonic River (C&R), Tyringham — Hop Brook, and Williamstown — Hemlock Brook, Green River.

  • Beginning tomorrow, turkey hunting permits will be available for over-the-counter sales at the DFW Regional headquarters on Hubbard Avenue in Pittsfield. Just bring your 2009 hunting or sporting license and $5 to cover the cost of the permit.

    To reach Gene Chague: (413)637-1818.


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