Wednesday, January 14, 2015

To the Bat Cave! Or not.

As I have oddly become the Internet's go to resource on brewery caves in the last couple of years it is my responsibility to pass along various messages.

Don't go into dangerous places.

Don't get arrested for trespassing.

And now I have to add another caveat, one which will cause me to more frequently invoke the "no location" rule:

Stay away from the bats.

Most people do this instinctively.  While recognizing the important work they do eating the mosquitoes that would otherwise be eating us, most people find bats creepy.  And even if you can appreciate our little fliegermaus pals the fact is that they are the major vectors for rabies in our part of the world.  So when you encounter one flying around your house it is all to easy to reach for the old tennis racket. (for the record I have coveralls, welding gloves, a biohazard hood and a butterfly net as my non lethal, no rabies shots needed kit).

But really the reason for staying away from where bats "hang out" is not for your protection but for theirs.

Since it was first discovered in 2006 a very nasty fungal infection called "White Nose Syndrome" has been sweeping through bat populations.  Some species appear unharmed by it. Others have near total mortality once the stuff gets to them.  It started on the East Coast and has been heading west.  It arrived in Wisconsin last year.

Bats who contract the disease get a characteristic growth of white fungus around their muzzles. This can spread to larger surfaces like their wings.  They are unable to hibernate through the winter months and without the needed down time they are active under climate conditions that, due to cold and lack of food, are often fatal to them.

My contacts in the world of small flying things indicate that during the winter months you just have to stay away from them.  And since our northerly climes have long winters, this means a good chunk of fall and spring also.  Additionally for those who explore caves as a serious hobby, wearing the same clothes from one cave to the next could easily spread the infection.

The Official Word is that we need to stay out of bat hibernation areas from October 1st to May 15th, and that by law decontamination of clothing and caving equipment must be done between cave visits.

For those who need additional help finding sympathy for bats it is estimated that the die off from White Nose Syndrome means that every year 2.4 million pounds of insects are not getting eaten.  I don't know how many mosquitoes it takes to make a pound, let your imagination have fun with that concept.

So far the disease has not made it up my way.  Its presence in Wisconsin so far has been an isolated case in the far southwest corner of the Badger state.  But where it is found it has been recommended that there be a moratorium on caving.  And for brewery caves that have potential as bat hibernaculi that is probably sensible and humane advice.

Updates as more information becomes available.


jon spencer said...

If white nose syndrome is here in the U.P., then northern Wisconsin probably has.

Tacitus2 said...


Wisconsin will be doing their annual bat survey over the next few months. There are reasons to be very concerned.