Science Diary: Bats – Weighty Matters

music; ambience: Indiana bat vocalizations

“So they either die in the cave, or they leave the cave and fly off in hopes of finding something to eat. And they don’t. They die out in the woods. They die in people’s yards. They die in the lawns”

New York state’s hibernating bats are dying in droves, and scientists are trying to figure out why. Welcome to Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Al Hicks is a wildlife biologist with the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“The problem that we’re seeing is that bats that would typically hibernate until at least mid-April, some of them even until mid-May, before they have to get up and they start their lives during the summer time, they’re running out of fat reserves months in advance, and they’re starving. That’s what appears to be happening. You and I maintain our body temperatures at 98 degrees, and bats do that too, most of the time of the year. But when they’re hibernating, they kind of throw this switch, and their body temperatures drop to essentially that of their surroundings. And the lower your body temperature, the lower your metabolism, the slower you’re burning calories. So they build up these fat reserves and then go into places that are cold enough so that they’re burning fat so slowly that will last them through until the following spring. And something’s happened that’s not happening any more here and we don’t know why.”

It’s estimated that in the last year, over 400,000 hibernating bats in New York, Vermont and Massachusetts have died. That’s over 90% of known populations. Scientists are still searching for the cause.

For more information, visit pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Science Diary: Bats - Weighty Matters

New York's hibernating bats may be starving to death before they're due to emerge from their winter caves.
Air Date:10/29/2010
Scientist:
Transcript:

music; ambience: Indiana bat vocalizations

"So they either die in the cave, or they leave the cave and fly off in hopes of finding something to eat. And they don't. They die out in the woods. They die in people's yards. They die in the lawns"

New York state's hibernating bats are dying in droves, and scientists are trying to figure out why. Welcome to Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Al Hicks is a wildlife biologist with the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation.

"The problem that we're seeing is that bats that would typically hibernate until at least mid-April, some of them even until mid-May, before they have to get up and they start their lives during the summer time, they're running out of fat reserves months in advance, and they're starving. That's what appears to be happening. You and I maintain our body temperatures at 98 degrees, and bats do that too, most of the time of the year. But when they're hibernating, they kind of throw this switch, and their body temperatures drop to essentially that of their surroundings. And the lower your body temperature, the lower your metabolism, the slower you're burning calories. So they build up these fat reserves and then go into places that are cold enough so that they're burning fat so slowly that will last them through until the following spring. And something's happened that's not happening any more here and we don't know why."

It's estimated that in the last year, over 400,000 hibernating bats in New York, Vermont and Massachusetts have died. That's over 90% of known populations. Scientists are still searching for the cause.

For more information, visit pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.