Bats may not always get a second thought, but they’re more important than people may think. These pollinators disperse seeds and eat many of the pests that kill crops. In fact, their pest control saves U.S. food growers more than $3 billion each year. A particular bat species, though, is seeing sharply declining numbers, and federal officials are trying to take steps to save it.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has officially proposed listing the tricolored bat as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. They say this is primarily due to a disease called white-nose syndrome, which has led to more than 90% declines in impacted colonies and is currently detected across 59% of the species’ range.
Service Director Martha Williams says, “White-nose syndrome is decimating hibernating bat species like the tricolored bat at unprecedented rates. Bats play such an important role in ensuring a healthy ecosystem. The Service is deeply committed to continuing our vital research and collaborative efforts with partners to mitigate further impacts and recover tricolored bat populations.”
White-nose syndrome involves the growth of a fungus often resembling white fuzz on the bats’ muzzles and wings. It thrives in cold, dark, damp places, and it hits the species during hibernation. Affected bats wake up more frequently, which can lead to dehydration and starvation before spring.
The service says it’s working to address the threat of this disease, which is also impacting other bat species, through the White-nose Syndrome National Response Team. The goal is to research and develop management strategies to reduce the impacts of the disease and help recover populations affected by it. This includes actively monitoring the syndrome’s spread and impacts and testing a variety of treatments. The team involves more than 150 organizations, Tribes, and government agencies.
White-nose syndrome is currently the biggest threat to the species. However, the service says other threats are now more pronounced due to the stark decrease in population, and they are often being worsened by climate change. These threats include disturbances at bats’ roosting, foraging, commuting, and wintering habitats, as well as deaths at wind energy facilities.
The service hopes to balance conservation with economic activities in impacted areas.
They explain, “The Service has a strong foundation in place for working with stakeholders to conserve bats while allowing economic activities within the range to continue to occur, and will continue to build on these in light of the tricolored bats endangered status. For example, through the use of habitat conservation plans, wind energy projects can move forward after minimizing and mitigating their impacts to tricolored bats.”
A public comment period on the proposal runs through mid-November, with a final decision announced within 12 months.
The tricolored bat is known for its tricolored fur that can appear yellowish and even orange. Its current range includes the eastern and central United States, portions of southern Canada, Mexico, and Central America. They hibernate in caves, abandoned mines, and sometimes road-associated culverts. During the rest of year, they prefer forested habitats, where they usually roost in trees.