PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – There is a bat box behind the Koppel United Methodist Church in Beaver County. It’s there because it is a place where you traditionally see a number of bats at dusk.
Ed Alford, of Koppel, sees them in another location a few blocks away, too.
“There’s this old chimney behind my house and there’s just tons of bats going in and out every night,” Alford says.
But both state and local agencies are seeing dramatic declines in the bat population. They point to a disease called white nose syndrome which affects hibernating bats and leaves a white fungus.
“Some people have noted there’s no more bats in their attic,” says Allegheny County entomologist Bill Todaro. “I have had calls like ‘What happened to the bats?’”
In recent years, bat populations in regional mines have turned out to be nothing like it was when bat populations were at their peak.
The following indicates the depth of the decline in the number of bats at regional mines:
Long Run Mine – Armstrong County
90,000 – 0
Lawrence County Mine
35,000 – 8
Gateway Mine (Ohio border)
40,000 – 125
Canoe Creek State Park – Blair County
35,000 – 155
But if you’re tempted to ask who needs bats? Well, nature needs bats.
They play a key role in controlling the insect population.
Could that affect mosquito populations? More likely other insects, says Bill Todaro.
“Most of the impact has been on agriculture,” he says. “Bats feed primarily on moths and beetles that feed on sweet corn, beans, things like that. And they have noticed a decline in that. And someone has actually calculated for every 10,000 bats that are gone, an estimated seven or eight tons of insects will survive.”
The disease does not affect humans, but experts still aren’t sure how to stop it.