Skip to main content

A fungal disease responsible for killing millions of cave-dwelling bats across North America is pushing some species to the brink of extinction, including bats species vital to Minnesota. 

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal this month to list the tricolored bat as endangered under the Endangered Species Act — the proposal comes after an extensive review determined tricolored bat colonies have declined more than 90%.

The decline of the species is driven by white-nose syndrome; a fungal disease that disrupts torpor during hibernation. Once awake, the bats are prone to starvation.  

In Minnesota, the disease is also the plight of little brown bats and northern long-eared bats.

Northern long-eared bats, listed as threatened in 2015, are also proposed to be listed as endangered, due largely to white-nose syndrome

Endangered species are those that are in danger of extinction, while threatened species are defined as likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future, according to the USFWS.

Melissa Boman, a mammal specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said bats play an important role in the ecosystem as they feed on insects to store up fat for the winter. 

Bats commonly eat beetles and other eat tree-boring insects, which improves forest health. They also provide a vital ecological service for agricultural landscapes when they feed on crop pests. 

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the decline of bat populations is costly. Studies estimate the pest-control services from bats are worth over $3 billion annually in dollars otherwise spent on pesticide. 

"Bats are also just intrinsically valuable," Boman said, adding bias against the species' even slowed biological research. "We're just starting to learn a lot about bats." 

And, what researchers are learning about language develop, navigation and spacial memory in bats could prove valuable to solving human diseases, such as Alzheimers and dementia. 

Boman said it's hard to estimate how many bats remain on the landscape in Minnesota, but researchers do know bat populations will be extremely difficult to rebound — that's partially because bats are slow to reproduce, with only a single pup each year. 

With the proposal to list two Minnesota species as endangered, Boman said she's hoping the news will create more opportunities to generate appreciation for bats, the same way conservation efforts have given rise to pollinator gardens and enthusiasm for native bees. 

But, the conservation challenges facing bats are weighty. 

And as for a population rebound, "I don't think we'll see it in our lifetime," Boman said. 

Next Up

Screen Shot 2022-10-02 at 8.25.27 PM

Pilot, brother and sister killed when plane crashed into house are ID'd

The plane crashed into a house in Hermantown, Minnesota.

Screen Shot 2022-10-02 at 7.18.52 PM

Rolled semi, livestock on freeway interchange in Woodbury

Traffic cameras showed what appeared to be hogs on the side of the road.

Eric Reinbold

Reinbold guilty of murdering wife with 'particular cruelty'

Eric Reinbold, 46, was convicted of two counts of murder in the second degree in Pennington County Friday.

police tape

Armed assault suspect arrested after standoff in Waite Park

The standoff ended early Saturday when officer obtained a warrant for the home.

Screen Shot 2022-10-02 at 9.06.25 AM

3 dead after plane crashes into house in Hermantown

Two people in the house were uninjured.


Destructive fire at Maple Grove greenhouse and nursery

The fire burned early Sunday morning at a longtime Maple Grove greenhouse and nursery.

st. cloud state university hockey

SCSU player hospitalized after being taken off ice on stretcher

Luedtke was checked into the boards in the first period and down for a reported 10-15 minutes.

Amber alert wisconsin

Amber Alert for Kryssy King canceled, suspect still at large

Police beleived 15-year-old Kryssy King was with a 22-year-old man who remains wanted.

Screen Shot 2022-10-01 at 10.18.12 AM

3 St. Paul fast food restaurants robbed in space of an hour

The thieves struck between 7:15 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Screen Shot 2022-10-01 at 9.06.40 AM

What to do with the Kmart site? Minneapolis wants your ideas

The project will connect Nicollet Avenue south of Lake street and north of the Midtown Greenway, reestablishing a street grid.

Screen Shot 2022-10-01 at 7.53.55 AM

Crowd evacuated at end of homecoming football game in Brooklyn Park

Police blamed 'unruly teens' in the stands and some who were trying to enter the stadium.


Imani 2021

A young shorebird's journey inspires hope for endangered Great Lakes species

Why a Great Lakes Piping Plover spotted in Duluth made big waves in Chicago.


Monarch butterflies listed as endangered, at risk of extinction

Scientists formally declare the species at risk of extinction.

gray wolf

Gray wolf removed from the endangered species list

A decision on whether they can be hunted in Minnesota will come later.

common goldeneye wildlife rehab center facebook dec 2021

As bird flu spreads, wildlife rehabber stops admitting some species

The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota announced the temporary policy change over the weekend.

Lake Sturgeon

MN lake sturgeon spawning event marks first of its kind in over a century

Conservationists celebrate a huge milestone for the living fossil of the fish world.


Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina get custom bats made by MN company

St. Louis Cardinals players Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols were presented the bats last week.


'Groundbreaking' MN research into mysterious northern hawk owl

"We don't know anything about them," Frank Nicoletti said of the secretive raptor species.