Stories in Maryland/DC

Maryland's Bat Mines

Research is shedding light—ultraviolet light—on a disease that has decimated Western Maryland's bats.

A man wearing orange overalls and a hard hat with a lamp reaches up overhead to gently swab the small brown bat suspended from the low rocky ceiling of a cave.
Maryland Bat Mines Dan Feller swabs a hibernating tricolored bat to test for white-nose syndrome. © Severn Smith / TNC

Daniel Feller is the Western Regional Ecologist for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service. Since 1990 he has been leading a statewide survey of bats alongside partners in academia, government and TNC.

After 20 years of watching bat numbers grow, Dan made a heartbreaking discovery in 2010: a disease called white-nose syndrome had reached the Central Appalachians and had begun to devastate the bat populations of Western Maryland.

Maryland's Bat Mines

The Nature Conservancy is working to keep the forests of the Central Appalachians connected and healthy in the face of climate change and other invasive threats. Bats are a critical component in a healthy forest ecosystem and their survival is essential to our Appalachian forests.

A man in an orange jumpsuit and hard hat crouches in a low cave preparing materials for a survey of the cave's bats. He uses his hat's headlamp to illuminate the pile of materials in front of him.
A man in mud covered white coveralls balances against the wall of a cave, preparing to take a sample from the small bat clinging to the wall.
View from behind of two men observing a hibernating bat in a cave. Their hard hat lamps illuminate the small mammal clinging to the cave wall.
Three people stand together in front of a metal barrier at the opening to a cave. They wear coveralls covered in mud and ripped in places where they had to crawl through narrow cave openings.
Thick forests cover the sides of a rolling mountain ridge. The trees are beginning to show falls colors of orange and gold.

White-nose syndrome is named for the white fungus that attaches itself to dormant bats. It causes them to fly around and use up the energy stored from eating small insects—energy they need to see them through winter hibernation.

White-nose syndrome was introduced to the U.S. in 2006 by humans who inadvertently carried it from Europe to a cave near Albany, NY. The disease spread rapidly and has since killed more than 5.7 million bats in eastern North America. In some wintering areas (called hibernacula), 90 to 100 percent of the bats have died.

Despite a seemingly gloomy outlook, research from the USDA Forest Service gives Dan hope. A study published in 2018 in the journal Nature Communications, shows that ultraviolet rays break down the fungus that causes white-nose. The study results might provide clues for stopping the deadly disease.


A Healing Light (2:28) New research is shedding light on white-nose syndrome, a disease that has devastated western Maryland's bats.