National Geographic : 2010 Dec
bottom of one gate, and eight of us---bat coun- ters and others---wiggle through. Every item with us, including my waterproof notebook, will be bagged in plastic when we exit and later disinfect- ed. If the fungus lives in this cave, Jim Kennedy and his colleagues won't carry it into the next. We explore the several passageways amid thousands of roosting gray bats, not one of which---so far as anyone can see---has a whitened nose. ere is no ragout of dead bats on the oor. We have arrived before the fungus. But Kennedy isn't sanguine. "It's not if it gets here. It's when it gets here. We're bracing ourselves for that," he says. " is cave alone has half a million bats." While Kennedy and the others work, I linger before an astounding sight. On the tan limestone wall of one chamber, lit dimly by the ricochet of our headlamps, hangs a single thick mass of gray fur. It's a cozy, inert aggregate of living bat bod- ies, clinging two-deep, three-deep, and cheek by jowl with one another, their little clawed feet hooked to the porous vertical rock. ey form a solid, irregular patch, as big as a living room carpet. is single patch, I'm told, might encom- pass 300,000 bats. It resembles a bu alo robe. It resembles a huge, dark amoeba. It puts me in mind of a giant Rorschach blot, testing our visions of the future. j COLD KILLER In a lab at Boston University, biologist Jonathan Reichard has prepared bat remains (le ) for heat processing to render away their fat. By weighing them before and a er the procedure, he can determine their fat content and deduce how badly the fungus had weakened them. A little brown bat in Pennsylvania (below) struggles in the snow against the e ects of untimely arousal, caused by the disease. e fungus Geomyces destructans may not kill bats directly, but disturbance, activity, wasted energy, and hunger in winter add up to doom.