(CN) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is making moves to protect a North American bat species that is being decimated by a fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome.
The FWS announced in a press release on Tuesday that the northern long-eared bat, currently listed as threatened, will be reclassified as an endangered species, citing worries over a “growing extinction crisis.”
Driving the population decline is white-nose syndrome, a disease that affects hibernating bats across all of North America. The disease is caused by a growing white fungus that covers the muzzles and wings of the bats.
This fungus flourishes in the same places that bats use to hibernate for the winter and causes the animals to wake up more often during hibernation, leading to possible dehydration and starvation before spring.
The northern long-eared bat is found in 37 states and is about 3 to 3.7 inches in length, with a wingspan of 9 to 10 inches. Its most notable feature is its long ears, and like many other bats it feeds on insects.
By eating insects and pests, along with its contributions to the pollination of plants, the northern long-eared bat and other bat species contribute an estimated $3 billion annually to the U.S. agriculture economy.
It is this important contribution that led the FWS to change the designation for the northern long-eared bat after a review found that the species is suffering a continuing dwindling population.
“This listing is an alarm bell and a call to action,” FWS Director Martha Williams said in a statement. “White-nose syndrome is decimating cave-dwelling bat species like the northern long-eared bat at unprecedented rates. The Service is deeply committed to working with partners on a balanced approach that reduces the impacts of disease and protects the survivors to recover northern long-eared bat populations.”
The endangered classification for the bat goes into effect on Jan. 30, 2023, and comes at a time when the federal government is also considering listing the tricolored bat as endangered as well.
The agency gave its proposal to change the classification of the tricolored bat in September and listed white-nose syndrome as the leading cause of population decline.
According to the Tuesday press release, white-nose syndrome hits the northern long-eared bat extremely hard, causing estimated declines of 97% to 100% in affected populations.
In addition, white-nose syndrome has spread rapidly, covering almost 80% of the species’ regions. It is expected that the disease will reach 100% coverage by the end of the decade.
The FWS leads the White-Nose Syndrome National Response Team, which is comprised of over 150 groups and institutions, including state and federal agencies and nongovernmental organizations.
“To date, this effort has yielded scientific advancements that include identification of critical information about white-nose syndrome and its impacts on North American bat species. We developed and are using disease surveillance tools to monitor spread and impacts, and we’re testing biological, chemical, immunological, genetic and mechanical treatments in a number of states to improve bat survival,” the agency said in its press release.
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