|This is a coal mine in eastern Pennsylvania that is used heavily by little brown bats as a hibernation site. Apparently it was recently brought to the attention of the Pennsylvania Game Commission because a local resident saw bats flying out of the mine during daylight hours.|
I learned a lot about the WNS problem by visiting this site and I now comprehend how desperate the situation is. It is a little difficult for most people, especially cavers living in the southeast U.S., to understand how much we have the potential to loose as WNS continues to move southward.
No one knows how large the hibernating little brown bat colony was in this mine. Biologist on this trip estimated around 5,000 bats in the mine. All I know is I saw hundreds of dead bats on the outside. They were hanging on dead trees, rock faces, or in the snow. Who knows how many dead bats were under the snow. The place smelled like death. An estimated 10 bats per minute were exiting the mine to fly around in the freezing temperatures only to perish.
I took a few disturbing images of what I saw outside the mine. Predators are taking advantage of the situation, especially birds of prey. They catch the day flying bats and tear the wings off. It looks like in many cases, only the head of the bat is eaten.
Based on my observations, when the WNS infected bats leave the mine they die anywhere from just outside the entrance to hundreds of feet away. I assume that means the fungus or spores could be present far away from the entrance. Who knows if they survive. I assume if a bird of prey or fox eats an infected bat, the spores might be able to survive the digestive track to be distributed when the animal defecates.
I also assume that if a caver unknowingly steps on a dead or decaying bat outside the entrance it is possible for the fungus or spores to adhere to footwear. A lot of emphases has been placed on cavers entering an infected cave then spreading it to uninfected caves. Based on what I saw, if anyone moves into the vicinity of an infected cave where bats are dying they have the potential to move it around. I left Pennsylvania with this lesson. I think it is important to wear a complete change of gear between caves, isolate the dirty set, and decontaminate it properly at home. There is no effective test to know how efficiently human move microscopic fungi spores around. It would be unreasonable to believe we don't move them around.
I heard examples of newly discovered, often dug open, caves in the northeast U.S. that had no prior human visitation where dead or dying bats were observed. I suspect our contribution to this bat disease is minimal. Having seen this grim situation in person, I think we should do all we can do. I do not believe that a ban on caving will have any significant effect what so ever. I think that being responsible after visiting a cave might be more beneficial.
I also learned about or witnessed research related to WNS. There is a lot of research being conducted all over the country.
|title||Tresckow Mine, Carbon County, Pennsylvania, Stephen Alvarez and Greg Turner Pennsylvania Game Commission 1|
|date yyyymmdd hr:mn||2010:02:22 11:51:16|
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Updated: 2016-05-01 10:18:19 gmt