The Van Trump Report

What We Need to Know About Silent “Bat-Killing” Fungus

Bats don’t get the same “buzz” as bees when it comes to nature’s pollinators, but they play a bigger role in agriculture than many might realize. And not only do they pollinate crops, they eat copious amounts of crop-killing insects. The population of this critical species is at risk though, with a deadly fungus known as “white-nose syndrome spreading unchecked across the U.S., killing millions of bats. According to a recent report and study by the University of Illinois and Colorado State University, those losses are costing U.S. agriculture +$495 million a year.

Study co-author Amy Ando, professor of agricultural and consumer economics and co-director of the Center for the Economics of Sustainability at U of I says that lost bat populations have harmful ripple effects on food and agriculture. “Crop yields fall and input costs rise as farmers try to compensate for the services bats usually provide. That drives down the value of farmland and the number of acres planted, and the supply shock probably also hurts consumers as ag production becomes more costly.”

According to the study, both land price and viability decline as bat populations decline. The data shows the loss of bats in a county causes land rental rates to fall by $2.84 per acre, and $1.50 per acre in neighboring counties. Additionally, agricultural land falls by 1,102 acres in a county with an outbreak while neighboring counties lose 582 acres, the researchers find.  

“If you no longer get that free pest control you’ve had on marginal land where yields may be lower than average and input costs are already high, then having to also deal with yield loss and/or purchase chemical pesticides to replace the bats’ service can be enough to make land no longer viable,” says Dale Manning, professor of agricultural and resource economics at CSU, and lead author on the paper. He also says that once bat populations are hit, it’s hard for them to recover. “Right now, studies show these populations are crashing and staying low. Whether or not that’s permanent is still uncertain.”

The researchers’ main goal was to tally the cost of the problem to agriculture but they also worked closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to identify some potential solutions. One option currently under development is vaccination while the other is a fungicide used preemptively in bat habitats. The researchers say bot solutions cost far less than losing America’s bat populations. 

“White-nose syndrome” as it’s being called, is caused by a fungus. The disease name stems from the look of the white, fuzzy look of the fungus on the muzzles of infected bats. The fungus grows on the bats’ hairless areas such as noses and wings, specifically attacking its skin during hibernation. As it spreads throughout the body, it causes the bats to be more active than usual, using up their winter fat reserves and often starving before spring arrives.

First found in a cave in New York in 2006 after likely arriving from Europe, the fungus has since spread across the U.S. and Canada, wiping out 80% of infected bat colonies, on average. Ten years ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the disease had already wiped out about 6.7 million bats in 16 states and Canada. Today, it is present in 41 U.S. states, with Louisiana being the most recent to join the list. Learn more about white-nose syndrome and how you can help HERE. (Sources: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,, USGS)

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