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DEC: Let bats get their sleep

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is urging New Yorkers to avoid visiting caves and mines that might serve as homes for hibernating bats.

The warning came amid Bat Week, an annual event to raise awareness about bats and their role in the environment.

Bats need their winter sleep, and human disturbance is harmful to them — especially since the arrival of white-nose syndrome, a fungus that’s led to the deaths of more than 90% of bats at hibernation sites in New York state, according to the DEC.

When bats are disturbed during hibernation it forces them to raise their body temperature, depleting fat reserves. This stored fat is the only source of energy available to the bats until the weather warms in spring. The white-nose fungus prompts bats to wake up from hibernation more easily, thus burning fat reserves they need to survive the winter.

There is currently no treatment for bats suffering from white-nose syndrome.

Therefore, the DEC is asking the public to follow all posted notices restricting access to caves and mines. Anyone entering a northern long-eared bat hibernation site from Oct. 1 through April 30, the typical hibernation period for bats, may be subject to prosecution.

“Exploring caves can be a fun adventure, but it can lead to disaster for New York’s bat populations,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement. “Hibernating bats are highly susceptible to even the quietest cave visits. If disturbed, bats will temporarily increase their metabolism and expend significantly more energy than normal, making them more susceptible to disease. During hibernation months, it’s better and safer for visitors to stay out of caves altogether, but if you do come across hibernating bats in a cave, I urge you to leave quickly and quietly.”

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