U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo of bat with white-nose syndrome.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo of bat with white-nose syndrome.

Federal officials are now designating a type of bat that lives in Iowa as a threatened species, because a fungal disease is wiping out large populations of the furry, flying creatures. Kristen Lundh a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says the northern long-eared bat will have new protections in Iowa and 25 other states under the “threatened” designation.

“A species that is endangered is defined as any species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range,” Lundh says. “A species that is threatened is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.”

Bats in Iowa are falling victim to a disease called white nose syndrome, a disease that actually makes their muzzles turn white. “Bats with white nose syndrome act strangely,” Lundh says. “They fly around outside in the winter when they’re supposed to be hibernating.

In studies of bats with white nose syndrome, researchers have found that they have depleted most of their fat stores by mid-winter and they get really severe wing damage that shows up when we capture them during the summer.” It’s difficult to determine how many bats in Iowa are being impacted by the disease and more bat counts will be done this year.

Some aspects of the disease remain a mystery. Lundh says, “We don’t really know what the exact process by which white nose syndrome leads to the death of infected bats, but we do know the fungus, where it’s infected bats, is responsible for very large-scale mortality.” More than six million bats of multiple species have been killed by white-nose syndrome since it was first documented in the U.S. in 2006.

Lundh notes, bats are particularly beneficial to an agricultural state like Iowa as they’ll eat all sorts of insects that would otherwise damage crops, in addition to bugs that bug people. Some bats will eat a thousand mosquitoes per night.