Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Disappearing Bats

First frogs, then bees, and now bats... Over the last few months there have been reports of a massive die-off of bats in the Northeast. As the article at Bat Conservation International puts it, “Hibernating bats are dying by the tens of thousands in the northeastern United States, and a growing circle of top scientists is anxiously trying to figure out why. The mystery affliction, reported in New York, Vermont and Massachusetts, is dubbed ‘white-nose syndrome’ because many affected bats had visible halos of white fungus around their faces.” I’ve always been fond of bats. On summer evenings at the family camp on Skaneateles Lake, when I was growing up, I would wait for dusk and watch them dart around for insects. In Arizona I once visited a wildlife refuge where hummingbirds visited feeders filled with sugar water during the day, and bats came to the same feeders at night. (This photo of an Arizona nectar bat is courtesy of Charles W. Melton.) And in Kathmandu I once saw giant fruit bats hanging from tree branches all day like big leather packages, then unfurling themselves at dusk and flying low over the city, flapping their wings in slow beats like albatrosses: an eerie and beautiful sight.

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