Disease forces bats into Syracuse-area homes

There are a lot of things that go bump in the night, but this summer, students living off campus ran into a new menace: bats.

These winged mammals are not a new thing to the Syracuse area. It is fairly common to get a bat stuck in your house every once in a while. This year was an exception.

There was a large increase of bats flying into human dwellings. Not only do I know at least six people who ran into this problem, but I had a bat stuck in my bedroom in the middle of the night.

Bats have invaded Syracuse.

We’re not out of the woods yet. Summer doesn’t officially end until Sept. 22, and bat species hibernate in winter. If you haven’t gotten a bat in your house yet, chances are you might soon.

If the bats have always been here, why do there seem to be more this year? Well, there aren’t more, technically. Bat populations in North America have been hit hard by white-nose syndrome, a fungus that appears on the snout and/or wings. The fungus thrives in the bats’ natural habitats: caves and mines.

Fewer bats in North America, especially in New York where the disease was first discovered, could mean more bats in houses. Bill Shields, a biologist and professor of animal behavior at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, says he thinks there is a correlation between bat disease and bat invasion into human habitats.

“There’s less disease in houses,” Shields said. “They can reproduce successfully. In caves, their populations are declining, so they find somewhere else.”

While this is not a proven correlation, rampant study has ensued to find out how we can help our bat populations. In the meantime, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s white-nose syndrome coordination team has planned containment strategies.

The disease first appeared six years ago and has since spread across the Northeast. The disease threatens extinction to six species within two decades, according to reports. After that, it is estimated this would cost U.S. agriculture more than $3.7 billion a year, due to the species’ use in controlling pest populations.

There is not much that a common college student can do to help New York bat populations, but as they are intruding our habitats, it’s important to remember how we have intruded in theirs for so long. These animals may be known for Halloween, but bats are a vital part of our ecosystem.

Without bat populations, every other species population will be affected, whether it’s the bugs that they eat or something farther down the food web. All species are interrelated, and humanity is a part of that machine, as well. Like bats, we’re mammals too.

Meg Callaghan is a junior environmental studies major and writing minor at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at mlcallag@syr.edu.


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