Tricolor bats could become endangered as a fungal disease decimates their population

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A fungal disease that attacks while bats hibernate has brought the tricolor bat to the brink of extinction. Now, the US Fish and Wildlife Service recommends that the tricolor bat be added to the endangered species list in an effort to protect them.

Tricolor bats live in 39 states east of the Rocky Mountains, as well as parts of Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and Nicaragua.

But white-nose syndrome – caused by a fungus that grows on cave bats during hibernation – is decimating the bat population in North America at “an unprecedented rate”, said the director of Fish. and Wildlife Service, Martha Williams, in a press release.

One of the smallest species native to North America, tricolor bats spend the majority of the year in forested habitats. However, when winter comes, they seek refuge in caves and mines to hibernate, which is when they are susceptible to disease, according to the FWP.

The fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, can look like white fuzz on a bat’s wings and snout, attacking bare skin while the animal hibernates. According to the FWP White-nose Syndrome Response Team, the fungus makes bats more active when they should be hibernating, burning up what little energy they have to survive the winter.

White-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats across the continent, the FWP said, wiping out 90% to 100% of colonies at some sites. Scientists still don’t know where the fungus came from, but it has been found in 12 of 47 species living in North America, including two currently protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The disease is also ravaging the northern bat population, which FWP recommended upgrading from threatened to endangered last March. The FWP says that bats are essential to the proper functioning of an ecosystem and that they contribute at least $3 billion to pest control and pollination every year.

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