Bat with white nose syndrome beats the odds

Published: Oct. 30, 2018 at 5:12 PM EDT
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"Let me see if I can find where this guy is hiding. He has such a big cage, he can hide wherever he wants," Barry Genzlinger said.

Finding a little brown bat, weighing only as much as a dime and nickel, is something Barry Genzlinger has plenty of experience doing. The one tucked away in this pen at the Vermont Bat Center has been with him for several months... and with quite a story to tell.

"He came to us in April," Genzlinger said. "You see his wing is in pretty good shape. There's one little area right here and one little area on this other wing here that are just these tiny little puckers."

Those little marks were the only indication that the bat had white nose syndrome. But a few days later:

"From April 10 until April 26, his wings completely fell apart. So here are the same two wings. And the white nose fungus has completely devastated the wings. So now, it's a matter of keeping him alive," Genzlinger said.

He didn't give up on the bat. And it didn't give up either.

Barry Genzlinger: Here he is May 30th. Same wings.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: Wow.

Barry Genzlinger: Wing tissue is regrown. And now he is trying to figure out all the little details of how to fly.

Photos showing the ruthlessness of white nose syndrome and a bat's recovery are rare. The state's bat biologist said it's an example of how the critters' own immune response to the fungus can kill them. She said if this one hadn't ended up in Genzlinger's care, it would have died.

The next step for that little brown bat is hibernation in the bat cave, joining the others that will call Genzlinger's space home for the winter.

Barry Genzlinger: And they are out cold.

Cat Viglienzoni: Quite literally. It's pretty chilly in here.

Barry Genzlinger: It is.

He's hoping that after the bat that beat the odds comes out in the spring, it will be ready to fly again and go back into the wild.

State bat biologist Alyssa Bennett says over the last 10 years, white nose syndrome killed about 90 percent of Vermont's little brown bats.

There's no way to eradicate the disease but the decline appears to have stabilized now. They're not sure why.

Other bat species in Vermont are still hurting because of the fungus. Bennett says two species-- the tri-colored bat and the northern long-eared bat-- are so rare now that they can't even make population estimates anymore. She says they are in real danger of disappearing from Vermont.