The northern long-eared bat, which can be found in isolated populations in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, is protected as a threatened species by federal law.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reclassified the bat as endangered on Tuesday, up from a designation as threatened in 2015.
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The agency cited the “range-wide implications of the white-nose syndrome” as the reason for the change.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams called the listing “an alarm bell and a call to action.”
“Cave-dwelling bat species, like the northern long-eared bat, are being lost at unprecedented rates due to white-nose syndrome.”
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that the pest control and pollination services provided by bats are worth at least $3 billion a year to the U.S. agricultural sector.
The range of the northern long-eared bat extends over the southern Northwest Territories and eastern British Columbia in Canada, and across 37 states in the eastern and northcentral United States.
Bats typically hibernate in dark, damp places like caves and old mines during the colder months.
They spend the summer months snoozing alone or in tiny colonies within tree bark, cavities, or crevices. At dusk, they take to the air in search of insects, which they find mostly in the understory of forests.
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A fungus that occasionally appears as white fuzz on bats’ muzzles and wings is the root cause of the white-nose syndrome, which is accelerating their extinction. It is most successful in the aforementioned conditions and infects hibernating bats.
Bats infected with a disease that causes them to awaken frequently will likely get dehydrated and hungry before spring arrives.
White-nose syndrome has been confirmed in 38 U.S. states, including Pennsylvania, and 8 Canadian provinces, but it has only been observed in bats.
Nearly 80% of the long-eared bat’s range has already been affected by white-nose syndrome, and by the end of the decade, it is predicted to reach 100% of the range.
An in-depth analysis conducted by the USFWS concluded that the northern long-eared bat continues to decline and thus satisfies the definition of an endangered species under the ESA, prompting the reclassification as endangered.
Data suggest that northern long-eared bat populations in areas where white-nose syndrome has been detected have declined by an estimated 97-100%.