They can live for twenty-five years and only have one baby every twelve months. They eat insects that plague humans and they help to pollinate plants. And 90% of them may have died in some places in New England this winter.
Little brown bats, Northern long-eared, Eastern pipistrelle, and the federally endangered Indiana bat are being stricken by a disease biologists are naming White Nose Syndrome, although whether it's a virus, a bacteria or a fungus is not yet clear. These species are the first infected, but biologists fear that all species of bats are vulnerable.
Sick bats were first discovered only a little more than a year ago in a cave near Albany, New York. In one cave, the population of bats plummeted from 1,300 to 38. By February, sick bats had also been found in Vermont and Massachusetts. By the middle of the month, the Boston Globe reported infected bats had been found in two caves in Western Massachusetts near Chester.
"No one has a clue what is going on," said Tom French, assistant director of the natural heritage and endangered species program of the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife, who helped find sick bats in Massachusetts."
Caves where sick bats are found are being closed to the public, not because humans are in danger but because it's not known how the disease is being spread.
This month, sick bats were discovered in caves in West Virginia.
With the stress on bees, our main pollinators, what's happening to bats is a major cause for concern.