A disease devastating bats throughout the American northeast has now spread to Michigan. White-nose syndrome has been confirmed in three Michigan counties: Alpena, Mackinac and Dickinson.
Bats play a critical role for farms and forests by eating insects, lots of them.
“Bats in Michigan had an economic benefit of $528 million to $1.2 billion dollars for farmers,” says Bill Scullon, the statewide bat program coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
States that have had this fungus the longest are seeing summer bat populations drop by 70-to-80 percent. Eleven species of bat have been infected and over six million have died.
Scullon says extinction is a threat, even for some very common bat species such as the little brown bat.
“If this disease doesn’t change course, if something doesn’t happen to radically alter the current plan of events – you’re looking at possible extirpation of those species,” he says.
Bat die-offs can be reported on the DNR website, but officials caution the public against handling bats because of the risk of exposure to rabies.