From: USGS
Published July 6, 2017 08:00 AM

Hot new imagery of wintering bats suggests a group behavior for battling white-nose syndrome

Hot new imagery from temperature-sensing cameras suggests that bats who warm up from hibernation together throughout the winter may be better at surviving white nose syndrome, a disease caused by a cold-loving fungus ravaging insect-eating bat populations in the United States and Canada. The study by researchers with Massey University in New Zealand and the USGS was published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution.  

Bat hibernation is a state of winter inactivity characterized by low body temperature, slow breathing and heart rate, and a low metabolic rate.  Metabolic arousals, or ‘warm-ups,’ are short and sporadic returns bats make to high body temperatures during the cold of winter. Researchers still don’t understand the exact reasons for these winter warm-ups, but most suspect that the white-nose fungus likely kills bats by causing too many warm-ups during winter.  This study, however, suggests otherwise.

Every time a bat warms up from hibernation it uses proportionally huge amounts of stored energy, so the fungus likely causes hibernating bats to burn through their winter fat stores too quickly. The new study was the first to use thermal imaging surveillance cameras to non-invasively monitor hibernating bats in their natural habitats for entire winters. The resulting imagery and analyses provide remarkable glimpses into the mysterious behaviors and warm-up patterns of hibernating bats.

White-nose syndrome is a fungal disease of hibernating bats causing unprecedented population declines in North America since it emerged in 2007. More than half of the 42 species of insect-eating bats in the United States rely on hibernation for winter survival and are at risk from the disease, which has spread rapidly across the United States and Canada.


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Photo via USGS.

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