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Some bats still hanging around in Delaware despite persistent disease

A Big Brown Bat hibernating at Fort Delaware

Updated on Oct. 31 after Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control announced they've received more funding to study White Nose Syndrome.

Bats are furry mammals that can fly. They’re also a key species because they prey on pests like mosquitos and moths. 

But a deadly disease has wiped out 5-6 million bats across North America. The disease, called “White Nose Syndrome” happens when a fungus grows on a hibernating bat’s muzzle, wings or ears. 

Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control announced on Oct. 31 they received about $16,000 from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service this year to fight White Nose Syndrome. 

According to an email from U.S. Fish & Wildlife, the grant was announced in July this year as part of a collective $1 million distributed to 37 states, but DNREC announced it this week.   

"The timing with National Bat Week and Halloween is fortuitious for DNREC's continuing to support this valuable mammal as they battle WNS," said DNREC spokeswoman Joanna Wilson in an email.

The fungus that can grow on bats, called Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or “PD”, has been found at both Fort DuPont and Fort Delaware State Park. State Wildlife Biologist Holly Niederriter says it stays year-round, and some species are more affected than others.

“For example, at Fort Delaware, our big brown bats are hanging in there a lot better than our smaller bats are - our little browns and our Northern Long-Ears,” Niederriter said.

Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has been awarded federal funds for the last seven years to research ways to control and contain the fungus. 

Niederriter says they’ve swept and sprayed Fort Delaware to try to eliminate some of it. They also work with volunteers to collect bat calls around the state during summer to monitor populations.

But one thing scientists have learned is the fungus is persistent.

“It has stayed at Fort Delaware,” Niederriter said.  “Even throughout summer. We’ve documented it pretty much every month of the year. But the amount of that fungus is relatively low compared to some other sites.” 

Summer colonies of Little Brown Bats used to have their pups at an old house in Odessa and Lums Pond State Park in Bear. Niederriter said it has been a while since she's seen them at either of those spots. 

"We do go back and we're still hopeful that eventually the species will rebound a bit and maybe those colonies will rebuild, but so far they have not," Niederriter said.

According to a map of White Nose Syndrome’s frequency across the country, the disease surfaced in Western North Carolina this past year. 

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