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White-nose Syndrome

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White-nose Syndrome Threatens New York's Bats

Image of eight bats with White-nose Syndrome in Hailes Cave
White-nose Syndrome in Hailes Cave
Albany County, NY - Photo by N. Heaslip

Thousands of hibernating bats are dying in caves and abandoned mines in New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont from unknown causes. This die-off has prompted an investigation by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), as well as wildlife agencies and researchers around the nation.

The most obvious symptom associated with the die-off is a white fungus encircling the noses of some of the bats. This has led to the name "white-nose syndrome", which is actually a collection of related symptoms, including a fungus. It is not clear how this fungus alone can cause bats to die. However, impacted bats deplete their fat reserves months before their normal springtime emergence from hibernation, and starve to death as a result.

Populations at Risk

Bat populations are particularly vulnerable during hibernation. They congregate in large numbers in caves, in clusters of 300 individuals per square foot in some locations, making them susceptible to disturbance or disease. The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of bats known to hibernate in New York do so in just five caves and mines. Because bats migrate hundreds of miles to their summer range, the impacts of white-nose syndrome are expected to have significant implications for bats throughout the Northeast.

The Indiana bat, a state and federally endangered species, are perhaps the most vulnerable. Half the estimated 52,000 Indiana bats that hibernate in New York are located in one former mine that is now affected with white-nose syndrome. Eastern pipistrelle, northern long-eared, and little brown bats are also dying. Little brown bats, the most common hibernating species in New York, have sustained the largest number of deaths.


Bat biologists across the country are evaluating strategies to monitor the presence of the disease and collect specimens for laboratory analysis. Biologists are taking precautions (using sanitary clothing and respirators when entering caves) to avoid unintentionally spreading a disease in the process.

DEC has been working with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, the Northeast Cave Conservancy, and the National Speleological Society, along with researchers from universities and other government agencies to study the problem. Current information on the status of white-nose syndrome in the northeast may be found by visiting the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's white-nose syndrome web page (leaves DEC website).