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Mosquito-eating bats under attack by fungal disease
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I remember as a boy playing with all of the other neighborhood kids during the summer.

On most days we spent the entire day out and only went home to eat lunch. Then we were back at it again.

Many times we ended the day by hanging out at the cul-de-sac close to my home and watched bats fly all around us.

I am not sure who started it, but we took a tennis ball and threw it into the air to see if a bat would grab it and drop it. I guess the bats thought the balls were the largest mosquitoes ever. That was cheap, quality entertainment for a bunch of kids for sure.

Bats are important to Georgians because they help control the insect populations. A single bat can eat hundreds of insects per hour. In addition to eating mosquitoes, they eat moths and beetles. Imagine the insect population if we did not have bats. Besides being overrun by mosquitoes, farmers would have a harder time managing their crops without the help they receive from bats.

In the past couple of years, bats in Georgia have had to deal with a new disease. It’s a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome. This disease was first discovered in New York in the winter of 2006. Scientists observed bats flying erratically and roosting toward the front of their caves in the middle of winter. Winter is a time when they should stay deep within a cave and hibernate.

Scientists also found hundreds of bats dead on cave floors with white fungal growth on their mussels. Now white-nose syndrome can be found up and down the Eastern seaboard. It is estimated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that 5.7 million to 6.7 million bats have been killed by this disease.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources is the state department responsible for managing wildlife and fish populations around the state. The DNR has developed a comprehensive management plan to help mitigate and track the spread of white-nosed syndrome. DNR has scores of information on its website, www.georgiawildlife.com/WNS.

Another source of information is the website www.whitenose

syndrome.org. You can find maps showing the spread of the disease, photos and up–to-date information about white-nosed syndrome.

Ultimately, much of the disease’s management falls on the shoulders of cavers. All cavers should limit trips to caves and decontaminate themselves in order to not spread fungal spores from place to place.

If you are out caving this year and you see what you think is white-nosed syndrome or if you find massive die-offs, contact DNR at GADNRBats@dnr.state.ga.us and report it.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears weekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.

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