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Feb. 24 lecture to focus on Northeast bat crisis


Many thousands of hibernating bats – the flying mammals are major predators of airborne insects, like mosquitoes – are dying in caves and abandoned mines in the Northeast from a fungus wildlife biologists are studying around the clock.


The most obvious symptom associated with the die-off is a white fungus encircling the noses of some, but not all, of the affected bats. This has led to the name "white-nose syndrome," which is actually a collection of related symptoms, including a fungus. It is not clear how this fungus alone can cause bats to die, however; impacted bats deplete their fat reserves months before their normal springtime emergence from hibernation, and starve to death as a result.


A research biologist from East Stroudsburg University will discuss WNS and more in a free public lecture at 7 p.m., Wed., Feb. 24, in 109 Evelyn Graham Academic Building at Penn State Hazleton. Sponsored by the Faculty Lecture Series Committee, Dr. Howard (Sandy) Whidden’s lecture is titled “Pennsylvania Bats: A Conservation Crisis.” A question-and-answer session will follow the presentation.


Bat biologists across the country, including scientists with government wildlife agencies like the Pennsylvania Game Commission, are evaluating strategies to monitor the presence of the disease and collect specimens for laboratory analysis. Biologists are taking precautions (using sanitary clothing and respirators when entering caves) to avoid unintentionally spreading a disease in the process. Bat populations are particularly vulnerable during hibernation as they congregate in large numbers in caves, in clusters of 300 individuals per square foot in some locations, making them susceptible to disturbance or disease. The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of bats known to hibernate in New York, for example, do so in just five caves and mines.


Because bats migrate hundreds of miles to their summer range, the impacts of WNS are expected to have significant implications for bats throughout the Northeast.


Dr. Whidden, assistant professor of biology at ESU, is a mammalogist whose research interests have included moles and shrews. At East Stroudsburg, he teaches conservation biology, general ecology, mammalogy, and introductory biology.


People who find sick bats in the coming warm-season months are encouraged to report their sightings to the Game Commission at www.pgc.state.pa.us .


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers a list of frequently asked questions about WNS at www.fws.gov/northeast/pdf/white-nosefaqs.pdf .


For more information on this event or others at Penn State Hazleton, call the Office of University Relations at 570-450-3180.

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