Biologists disguise themselves to protect bats (Yes, bats) from Covid-19

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Bat biologists love it Dan Feller gets excited every year for the summer season of field work, time to get out of the office and into the woods in search of his quarry – in this case, 10 species that spread across the mountains and forests of Maryland. Bats are most active in summer, because their breeding season is when their insect prey is most prevalent.

But this summer is a little different. Instead of catching bats with ultrathin nets or special traps (don’t worry, they won’t get hurt), Feller and many of his colleagues across the country count them remotely with acoustic devices that record their sonar calls. This is because of the risk of humans transmitting the coronavirus to bats.

It may sound strange, but bats need protection now people. Yes, it is true that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that surrounded the world probably originated from bats in China before it jumped on another animal and then on humans, a process called overflow. But humans can also transmit viruses back to animals; it’s called overflow.

In Maryland, researchers like Feller are taking precautions to prevent the virus from being transmitted in any direction. “We’re taking a conservative approach and we’re not dealing with them anymore,” says Feller, who has been conducting annual bat research in Maryland since 1990. “We’ve reviewed some of the research projects we’ve lined up. We changed the techniques in a year until we get more information. ”

Feller and others will be counting bats this summer with devices that record beeps that move during flight, but will not directly check them for signs. white nose syndrome, a devastating disease that has decimated the bat population by more than 90 percent since it first originated four caves near Albany, New York, where in 2007 alone he killed more than 10,000 bats.

U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials recently published new guidelines for biologists like Feller, recommending that they wear protective equipment like masks and respirators to reduce the risk of spreading the virus when they come in close contact with bats or research into bats. caves in which many animals hibernate in winter.

“We treat bats the way we treat the human community,” says Kristina Smucker, head of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks office for non-gaming, where she oversees permits for researchers studying non-hunting animals. “We will use personal protective equipment to protect the bats. This means wearing an N95 mask, gloves, measuring your temperature and not doing work if you have tested positive or are not feeling well. “

Federal agencies issued the guidelines after consulting with wildlife health and virology experts over the past year. The guidelines also included data from two previous experiments in which researchers exposed bats to coronavirus. U first study, released in December, a team of scientists from the USGS, the University of Wisconsin and Louisiana State University discovered that a large brown bat (Epstesicus fnscns),, one of the most common in the United States, was resistant to the virus. A separate study done by German researchers in 2020 found that Egyptian fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus),, which are common in the Mediterranean, Europe and North Africa, were somewhat susceptible to the virus.

The USGS study estimated the likelihood that U.S. scientists and wildlife managers transmit the coronavirus to bats and found that less than 2 in 1,000 bats would be likely to become infected if protective measures were not taken. The 32-page study was published in May bioRxiv overprint server and has not yet received review or acceptance for publication in the journal.



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