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Bat Stuffed Animals and the Diseases Facing the Real Thing

If you think a bat stuffed animal should only come out on Halloween, you’d be wrong. For those who rank bats right up there with teddy bears, a bat stuffed animal is a must-have any time of year.

While we often take animals in the wild for granted, thinking they will be around forever, we forget that they are susceptible to life-threatening diseases just like humans. White-nose syndrome is a fungus that kills bats, and there are at least nine species of bats in the United States that are most affected by it.

According to a leading expert [on bats] who works for the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station, bats living in the states of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee are most affected. Additionally, the fungus appears to be spreading at an alarming rate across much of the northeastern United States.

Veteran wildlife researcher Susan Loeb, Ph.D. He says that “in the five states where most of my research is focused, little brown bats and Indiana bats are among the most threatened by WNS—meaning their populations could either be severely decimated or extinct.” Loeb also has major concerns about other bat species, including the little bat, northern long-eyed bat and eastern pipistrelle — either because their populations are small or they are more likely — compared to other bat species — to contract the fungus. or both. In addition, the fungus could also spread to the Virginia big-eared bat, Rafinesque’s big-eared bat, gray bat, and southeastern bat.

The role of bats in forests and other landscapes is crucial in keeping them productive and healthy. In one night, just five bats can consume thousands of mosquito-sized insects. Bats living in tropical and subtropical regions are responsible for the pollination of a variety of agricultural plants as well as seed dispersal. Due to habitat destruction and/or loss, and the degradation and disturbance of maternity centers, bat populations in the United States in general have declined over the years.

Susan Loeb is just one of many scientists studying bat populations specifically as they relate to the spread of the WNS fungus. As Loeb’s research tracks bat migration, it will help track the spread of WNS in the South. In the East, Loeb is also working on a bat database that will give researchers information on various bat distributions and movements to better understand how WNS is spreading. So far, WNS has been confirmed in 11 states: Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee, and has also reached Canada.

A bat stuffed animal has the very lucky fortune of never being prone to contracting a disease, but its fame in the soft toy world isn’t quite on par with the ever-popular teddy bear. It takes a certain kind of person to pick out a bat stuffed animal, but once they do, you’ll wonder what took you so long.

Copyright Shelley Vassall, 2010.

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