For those in Maine that live in wooded areas, it was once a common occurrence in the summer that once the dark of night hit, out came the bats to swallow up all the insects. For decades in Maine, this was a regular event. But then suddenly, it wasn't. And in those same wooded areas where people used to regularly see bats swooping around their land, the question has become, "where are the bats?". Unfortunately, the answer is heartbreaking.

Group of Lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros
Cucu Remus

According to the Portland Press Herald, Maine's bat population has been decimated by a fungus called white-nose syndrome. The fungus has been spreading significantly since its first appearance in New York in 2006, killing off bats who spend the winter hibernating. The syndrome wakes bats early from hibernation, forcing them to feed early on their winter reserves and leaving them to starve to death before they can feed again.

The fungus fist was discovered in Maine sometime between 2010/2011, and in just six years, nearly wiped out Maine's bat population. A survey done of where bats take shelter found nearly 800 bats back in 2010. Six years later, in 2016, the number dropped to 27. White-nose syndrome has destroyed nearly 97% of Maine's bat population.

If you find bats to be icky and ugly, that's all well and good. But they serve as a crucial species for the environment. Here in Maine, bats have been a form of insect control, eating their entire weight in insects each night. In other parts of the world, they serve as pollinators, keeping plant life alive.

Wildlife experts continue to work on a remedy for white-nose syndrome and hope to have a plan in place to combat the fungus before it's too late.

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