Texas receives grant to prevent local bats from disease-causing fungus

Bat fungus (Photo courtesy of Texas Parks & Wildlife.)
Bat fungus (Photo courtesy of Texas Parks & Wildlife.)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Watching the bats take flight at the Congress Avenue Bridge is a staple attraction to those who live and visit Austin. Just take a walk in the area on a warm summer evening, and you’ve likely seen them.

But a disease-causing fungus is slowly killing off millions of bats in the eastern United States, threatening the number of bats we could see in the future. The disease is known as “white-nose syndrome,” for the powdery white fungus that grows on their nose and wings.

“What it does is it wakes them up when they’re trying to hibernate and it causes them to burn up their stored fat, they become emaciated and die,” says Tom Harvey, a spokesperson for the Texas Parks & Wildlife.

That’s why Texas has received a $30,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in hopes to aggressively monitor affected bats, prevent the disease, and eventually find a treatment.

“Bats are important,” says Harvey. “More important than most people realize. For many reasons. It’s estimated here in Texas that they are worth billions of dollars in our state alone to help agriculture.” Because the bats eat so many bugs, they act as a natural pest control.

The fungus was first detected on Texas bats in March of this year. The good news for our local bats is that 20 of the 33 bat species in Texas do not hibernate. So while the fungus has been found on bats across six north Texas counties, none have suffered from the effects of white-nose syndrome, at least, not yet.

“There have actually been bat colonies in the northeast where 90 percent of the bats of have died so it’s pretty serious,” says Harvey. Which is why Texas is doing its part to keep the bats here at home, healthy. So that we can continue to enjoy their “nightly show.”

To find out more about “white-nose syndrome” and what you can do to help, visit the Texas Parks & Wildlife website.

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