Local bat populations decimated by fungal infection

Local bat populations decimated by fungal infection
Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 6:32 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 31, 2022 at 7:22 PM CDT
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HERMANTOWN, MN. (Northern News Now) - In addition to pumpkins and friendly ghosts, bats have become a traditional symbol of Halloween, featured in both decorations and costumes.

But the real-life bat population in the Northland has faced some major challenges in recent years, causing numbers to drop dramatically.

Ron Moen, an Associate Professor for UMD and the Natural Resources Research Institute, doesn’t just spend his life looking for bats, he’s listening for them too.

“We’ve got a microphone that basically listens for a 20-yard radius around the microphone,” said Moen.

Moen’s listening for bat calls as a way to measure the population.

He said the numbers are shrinking drastically because of White Nose Syndrome.

“It’s actually caused by a fungus and what the fungus does is it gets on the bat, and it somehow affects its metabolism so that it wakes up,” Moen said. “And so it loses its fat reserves, which are what it lives on during hibernation.”

Spores of that fungus first came to our area around 2015, and it’s killed off close to 90 percent of the bats that can contract it around the Twin Ports.

According to Moen, bats play of vital role in the ecosystem, especially when it comes to pest control.

“The females with young, they eat their weight in insects every night,” Moen said.

In addition to mosquitos, Moen said bats eat moths and other insects that can impact farming and produce grown in the area.

At Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park near Tower, the bat population decline is even worse.

“Based on those counts prior to White Nose Syndrome compared to now, we’ve lost about 97% of the bat population due to White Nose Syndrome,” said Jim Essig, Park Manager for Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park.

He said the White Nose Syndrome mainly impacts cave-dwelling bats.

“The bats that hibernate in the areas, the caverns, the mine sites, those are the ones that are impacted,” Essig said.

According to Essig, there are noticeably more mosquitos now around Lake Vermilion because of the decline.

It’s a decline he said won’t last forever, but it could be quite a while before there’s a bounce back.

The fungus that causes White Nose Syndrome came to the U.S. from Europe in 2006.

It first appeared in New York state and has moved across the northern part of the country.