The loss of Wisconsin’s imperiled bats could mean an upsurge in insect pests and insect borne diseases. It’s a grim prognosis. John Paul White, a conservation biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said bat populations in Vermont and New York, the epicenter of White Nose Syndrome on the East Coast, have been virtually wiped out. “They’ve seen caves and mines where they typically go in and find 20,000 bats on average for the last ten years, and they’ll go in and find ten, or one, or none,” said White. “It’s certainly a cause for concern.”
So why should we care if Wisconsin’s night skies are swept clear of bats? Well, aside from the millions of mosquitoes they eat, consider the impact on agriculture. “One colony of Big Brown bats in a typical Wisconsin barn has the possibility of consuming about 33 million root worms, and root worms are a known pest of pest of corn.” The state Natural Resources Board recently listed all five bat species found in Wisconsin as endangered, and the fungus which carries White Nose Syndrome as an invasive, actions which White said have put the state on the leading edge of bat conservation efforts. White said the DNR will be doing what they can to track the disease this winter, but at this point there is no known treatment. The fungal disease acts as an irritant, waking the bats up repeatedly during hibernation and weakening their ability to survive through the winter.