White-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has decimated bat populations, is spreading in Texas. Scientists are trying everything from vaccines to UV lights to control the disease. Now, they’re asking the public for help.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has started accepting ideas to fight white-nose syndrome. If your idea is picked as one of the most promising, you could win up to $20,000 and work with scientists to test it out.
The website for the contest says it is open to any idea “to permanently eradicate, weaken, or disarm the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome.”
“We’re trying to sort of not restrict the thinking on any of this,” says Jonathan Reichard, assistant coordinator for the service's national white-nose syndrome response. “We really want very open minds on what ideas can come in.”
Earlier this year, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced the fungus causing the disease had been found in 11 new counties in the state, including the Bracken Bat Cave in San Antonio, the world’s largest bat colony.
That cave, like under the Ann Richards Bridge in Austin, is home to millions of Mexican free-tailed bats.
“The good news is that Mexican free-tailed bats migrate during the winter rather than hibernate. And white-nose syndrome kills bats during hibernation,” Jonah Evans, a mammalogist with Texas Parks and Wildlife, told KUT at the time.
While the bats are away, Texas Parks and Wildlife is disinfecting manmade bat roosts like bridges in East Texas to see if it might slow or stop the spread of the fungus.
Reichard said researchers are also trying to figure out how some bats have managed to survive the plague of white-nose syndrome in the Northeast, where its impact has been nearly apocalyptic.
“There’s ongoing work to figure out what it is that’s helping those bats survive,” he says. “It could be anything from their physiology to the environment they chose to live in the winter time.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will accept ideas for its white-nose syndrome contest until the end of the year.
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