A biologist friend sent me the link to this slide presentation on white-nose syndrome last night, but it took me until this afternoon to muster the strength to watch it. I think the fact that it’s still images — and very fine photos at that — actually makes it harder-hitting than if it were a true video. While I’ve never agreed with the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, pictures plus spoken words make for a very potent combination. It’s not the information per se, most of which I’d already known, but had been managing to keep on a somewhat abstract level.
Bats play a pivotal role in eastern forest ecosystems because they consume a very large quantity of insects. What effect will their disappearance have on forest trees — or on crops, for that matter? But more than that, it’s terrible to be losing these creatures which are wondrous and beautiful and important for their own sake. I hate to always talk about extirpation or extinction in terms of the effects on us and other species, as if that’s the main reason why it matters, though it’s an ecological truism that, as John Muir put it, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” And bats on summer evenings are woven inextricably into some of my fondest memories of childhood.
There’s no obvious, conclusive lesson here, not yet, though I’ve heard suggestions that the white nose fungus might be native to Europe, and might have been brought here accidentally by cavers. There doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it, though obviously biologists are rushing to learn all they can in hopes of preventing its spread, or at least helping to save remnant populations of the affected species. Congress recently approved $1.9 million to study white-nose syndrome, and you can keep up with other developments in this story at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website. There’s a form there that you can use to report unusual bat behavior or deaths if you live in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Hampshire or Vermont. You could also join Bat Conservation International, the world’s leading scientific advocacy organization for bats.
I am keeping my fingers crossed that the epidemic won’t effect some of the more solitary, forest-dwelling species, and will be limited to those who spend the winter in large hibernacula, but that’s probably wishful thinking. I’m not really sure why I’m sharing all this. You’re either going to shrug, if you’re not much of a nature lover, or, like me, become uselessly distraught. I don’t have the words to express how this makes me feel. After watching the above presentation, I proceeded to burn dinner — something I haven’t done in years, if ever — and break a favorite casserole lid. “This is not my day,” I said by way of lame explanation. But for the bats, this is evidently not their century.