Quirks & Quarks

How White-Nose Syndrome Kills Bats

The fungal infection that has devastated North American bats causes them to burn up their stored energy during hibernation.
Ultraviolet image showing lesions on the wing of a dead Eastern Pipestrelle bat. (US Geological Survey)
White-nose Syndrome has killed an estimated 6-million bats in North America, since it was first identified in 2006. The disease is named for the distinctive fungal infection around the muzzle and on the wings of hibernating bats. Scientists suspected that white-nose syndrome kills bats by increasing their energy demands during the hibernation period. This has now been confirmed in a new study by Dr. Michelle Verant from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In an experiment, the amount of energy used by infected bats was found to be twice as high as that of healthy hibernating bats. Extra energy is used through frequent arousal during hibernation, as well as a disruption of heat regulation caused by the damaged wings.

Related Links

Paper in BMC Physiology
- University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine release
National Geographic story
Discovery News story
White-Nose Syndrome Website