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The death of thousands of hibernating bats in caves near New York and Vermont has scientists baffled and concerned. The issue is very similar to the mysterious disappearance of honeybees that has continued to worry scientists and farmers since late last year.
The reason for the concern is two-fold. The fact that we are losing so many bats as well as the serious implications it may have on our food supply.
While honeybees help our food supply by pollinating, bats help by eating the insects that attack our food crops, especially wheat and apple plants. If we start losing bats too, our food supplies could be in even more danger.
The problem was first noticed in January 2007, when a cave explorer found a number of bat carcasses lying on the floor. Within a month, people in the area began calling in with reports that bats, which normally hibernate during winter, were flying out of the caves in the middle of the day and crashing into the snow and dying. By the time winter ended, about 11,000 bats had died in four caves.
This winter has been even worse! While scientists don't have the exact count yet - they are estimating about 200,000 dead bats spread across many different caves. The infected bats all have a white fungus around their noses, leading scientists to dub this mystery as "the white nose syndrome". While bats have a long lifespan of between 10-20 years, they only produce one baby a year, making it virtually impossible to replace them, if they continue to die in such large numbers.
Scientists are still investigating the cause but have a few theories. They think the bat deaths may be a reaction to a toxic substance in the environment or that a person exploring the caves may have brought the virus in from another country via mud on the shoes. They are therefore urging people to keep away from bat caves until they can figure out what is going on.
Meanwhile, we all have to hope that scientists will be able to solve the two mysteries (that of the honeybees and the dead bats) really soon!
sources: sfgate.com, popsci.com