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Hunting the Bat Killer

America’s bats are being destroyed by a terrible disease. Meet the amazing woman trying to save them. 

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    Picture yourself as a little brown bat. You are tiny—half the size of an iPhone. Yet you are one of the most feared creatures on the planet. 

    For thousands of years, humans have hated you. They have called you names: a demon, a bloodsucker, a monster. 

    But you are none of those things. What you are is amazing. You can fly as fast as a car. You can swallow 1,000 insects in less than an hour. 

    Right now, though, it is not insects that are in danger. It is you. It’s a cold winter day in a cave in New Jersey. You and hundreds of other bats are hanging upside down, fast asleep. You’ve been hibernating here for weeks.

    Suddenly, you are jolted awake. You feel strange. You are very thirsty. And hungry. So hungry! 

    You notice other bats waking up too. You also notice bats lying on the ground. They all have a white fuzz on their noses and wings. It looks like a dusting of powdered sugar.

    You know you need food or you will die. So you open your wings and fly out of your cave across the snow. But your belly is so empty it hurts.

    And crash! You hit the ground.

    Picture this: You’re a little brown bat. You are tiny—half the size of an iPhone. Yet you’re one of the most feared creatures on Earth.

    For thousands of years, humans have hated you. They have called you names: a demon, a bloodsucker, a monster.

    But you are none of those things. You are amazing. You can fly as fast as a car. You can eat 1,000 insects in less than an hour.

    Right now, though, it is not insects that are in danger. It is you. It’s a winter day in a cave in New Jersey. You and hundreds of other bats are hanging upside down, fast asleep. You’ve been hibernating here for weeks.

    Suddenly, you wake up. You feel strange. You are very thirsty. And hungry. So hungry!

    Other bats are waking up too. You also notice bats lying on the ground. They all have a white fuzz on their noses and wings. It looks like powdered sugar.

    You need food or you will die. So you open your wings and fly out of your cave. But your belly is so empty it hurts.

    And crash! You hit the ground.

    Imagine that you are a little brown bat. You are tiny—half the size of an iPhone—and yet you are one of the most feared creatures on the planet. 

    For thousands of years, humans have hated you. They’ve called you a demon, a bloodsucker, a monster.

    In reality, you are none of those things. What you are is incredible. You can fly at the speed of a car. You can swallow 1,000 insects in less than an hour.

    Right now, however, it is not insects that are in danger. It is you. It’s a cold winter day in a cave in New Jersey. You and hundreds of other bats are hanging upside down, fast asleep. You’ve been hibernating here for weeks.

    Suddenly, you are jolted awake. You feel strange—extremely hungry and thirsty.  

    You notice other bats waking up too. You also notice bats lying on the ground. They all have a white fuzz on their noses and wings. It looks like a dusting of powdered sugar.

    You know you need food or you will die, so you open your wings and fly out of your cave across the snow. But your belly is so empty it aches.

    And crash! You hit the ground.

A Mysterious Disease 

    This little brown bat doesn’t know it yet, but it’s in big trouble. It’s suffering from a terrible disease: white-nose syndrome (WNS). Scientists named the disease after the fuzzy white spots that appear on the bats’ noses.

    WNS first appeared in New York State in 2006. Since then, it has spread across North America. In some places, scientists have found piles of dead bats in caves. But in most areas, bats have simply vanished. At least 6 million bats have died from WNS.

    At first, experts were puzzled. But they soon discovered the cause of WNS: a fungus. This fungus grows in cool, wet places—like the caves where many bats hibernate. 

    The fungus is usually found in Asia and Europe. No one knows exactly how it got to America. But experts believe that humans are likely to blame. The fungus probably got stuck to someone’s shoe or backpack and hitched a ride on a plane.

    This little brown bat is in danger. It has a terrible disease: white-nose syndrome (WNS). Scientists named the disease after the white spots that appear on the bats’ noses.

    WNS first appeared in New York State in 2006. Since then, it has spread across the country. In some places, scientists have found piles of dead bats in caves. But in most areas, bats have simply vanished. At least 6 million bats have died from WNS.

    At first, experts were puzzled. But they soon discovered the cause of WNS: a fungus. This fungus grows in cool, wet places like the caves where many bats hibernate.

    The fungus is usually found in Asia and Europe. No one knows exactly how it got to America. But humans are probably to blame. The fungus probably got stuck to a shoe or backpack and hitched a ride on a plane.

    This little brown bat doesn’t know it yet, but it’s in serious danger. It’s suffering from a terrible disease called white-nose syndrome (WNS), named for the fuzzy white spots that appear on the bats’ noses.

    WNS first appeared in New York State in 2006. Since then, it has spread across North America. In some places, scientists have found piles of dead bats in caves. But in most areas, bats have simply vanished. At least 6 million bats have died from WNS.

    Though they were initially puzzled, experts soon discovered the cause of WNS: a fungus that grows in cool, wet places like the caves where many bats hibernate.

    The fungus is usually found in Asia and Europe. No one knows exactly how it got to America, but experts believe that humans are likely to blame. The fungus probably got stuck to someone’s shoe or backpack and hitched a ride on a plane.

STEPHEN ALVAREZ/National Geographic Creative

Bat Caves  
That dark patch on the cave wall is a cluster of about 300,000 gray bats! The scientists you see are checking on them while they hibernate.

Burning Energy 

    The WNS fungus is a disaster for bats that hibernate. Like bears, bats prepare for hibernation by eating a lot. This helps them store up fat in their bodies. 

    Then bats go into something called torpor to help them save energy. Their heart rate slows down. Their body temperature drops.  

    Bats usually remain in torpor for several weeks at a time. Then they wake up to do things like drink water before going back to sleep. 

    The WNS fungus breaks this cycle. WNS causes bats to become dehydrated. This makes them wake up far more often than they should. And being awake so much means they soon burn through the fat that was supposed to last them all winter. 

    When this happens, some bats fall to the ground, dead. Others go to look for food and freeze outside their cave.

    The WNS fungus is a big problem for bats that hibernate. Like bears, bats prepare for hibernation by eating a lot. This helps them store up fat in their bodies.

    Then bats go into something called torpor. This helps them save energy. Their heart rate slows down. Their body temperature drops. 

    Bats stay in torpor for weeks at a time. They wake up to do things like drink water. Then they go back to sleep.

    The WNS fungus breaks this cycle. It causes bats to become dehydrated. This makes them wake up far more often than they should. And being awake so much means they soon use up the fat that was supposed to last them all winter.

    When this happens, some bats fall to the ground, dead. Others go to look for food and freeze outside their cave.

    The WNS fungus is devastating for bats that hibernate. Like bears, bats prepare for hibernation by eating large amounts of food in order to store up fat in their bodies.

    Then bats go into a state called torpor, in which their heart rate and body temperature decrease to conserve energy. 

    Bats usually remain in torpor for several weeks at a stretch, waking up occasionally to do things like drink water.

    The WNS fungus interrupts this cycle. WNS causes bats to become dehydrated, which makes them wake up far more frequently than they should. And being awake so much means they soon burn through the fat that was supposed to last them all winter.

    When this happens, some bats fall to the ground, dead. Others go to look for food and freeze outside their cave.

The Bat Woman 

    Luckily, these sick bats have someone looking out for them. Her name is Jackie Kashmer. She is a bat rehabber. That means she has dedicated her life to helping sick bats.

    About 15 years ago, Kashmer built a house a few steps from her back porch. Hundreds of bats live there. And it is designed just for their needs. There is a large refrigerator for hibernation. There is an area to fly around in. A sign on one door reads “Bat Motel.” 

    When a bat arrives with WNS, Kashmer gets to work. She carefully removes the fungus from the bat’s nose and body. She checks its wings, looking for holes and tears. Then she places the bat in a mesh box with a warming light. The warmth calms the bat while Kashmer serves it a dinner of fresh mealworms.

    Kashmer wakes up every morning and goes to her day job. But every night, she rushes home to take care of her bats. She feeds them. She cleans their cages. And sometimes she stays up until 2 a.m. to make sure they’re OK.

    Luckily, these sick bats have someone to help them. Her name is Jackie Kashmer. She is a bat rehabber. That means she has dedicated her life to helping sick bats.

    About 15 years ago, Kashmer built a house for bats. It’s behind her house. Hundreds of bats live in the bat house. It has a large refrigerator for hibernation. It has an area to fly around in. A sign on one door reads “Bat Motel.”

    When a bat arrives with WNS, Kashmer gets to work. She removes the fungus from the bat’s nose and body. She checks its wings for holes. Then she puts the bat in a mesh box with a warming light. The warmth calms the bat. Kashmer gives it mealworms to eat.

    Kashmer has a day job. But every night, she rushes home to take care of her bats. She feeds them. She cleans their cages. Sometimes she stays up until 2 a.m. to make sure they’re OK.

    Fortunately, these sick bats have someone looking out for them. Her name is Jackie Kashmer, and she’s a bat rehabber. That means she has dedicated her life to helping sick bats.

    About 15 years ago, Kashmer built a special house a few steps from her back porch. Hundreds of bats live there, and it’s designed especially for their needs. It has a large refrigerator for hibernation and an area to fly around in. A sign on one door reads “Bat Motel.”

    When a bat arrives with WNS, Kashmer gets to work. She carefully removes the fungus from the bat’s nose and body, and she checks its wings for holes and tears. Then she places the bat in a mesh box with a warming light.

    The warmth calms the bat while Kashmer serves it a dinner of fresh mealworms.

    Kashmer wakes up every morning and goes to her day job. But every evening, she rushes home to take care of her bats. She feeds them and cleans their cages. Sometimes she stays up until 2 a.m. to make sure they’re OK.

Jim McMahon/Mapman ®

Where is white-nose syndrome?  
The disease first appeared in New York State in 2006. Since then, it has spread across the U.S. Cases of the disease have now been reported in 32 other states.

Worth Saving

    Kashmer doesn’t just care for bats. She also works to help the public understand why they’re worth saving. Throughout history, humans have feared these mysterious creatures. Made-up stories about Dracula and bats attacking people haven’t helped.  

    In reality, bats are afraid of humans. Only three of the more than 1,300 types of bats on Earth feed on blood. None of these “vampire bats” currently live in the U.S. And even if they did, people would be safe. Vampire bats mainly feed on pigs, horses, and birds. 

    Most bats actually eat insects—an enormous number of insects. This helps humans. Without bats, there would be more mosquitoes that could spread diseases. There would be more moths feasting on vegetables that humans grow.

    Kashmer doesn’t just care for bats. She also works to help the public know why they’re worth saving. Throughout history, humans have feared bats. Made-up stories about Dracula and bats attacking people haven’t helped. 

    In truth, bats are afraid of humans. Only three types of bats (out of more than 1,300) feed on blood. None of these “vampire bats” currently live in the U.S. And even if they did, we would be safe. Vampire bats mainly feed on pigs, horses, and birds.

    Most bats eat bugs. This helps us. Without bats, there would be more mosquitoes that could spread diseases. There would be more moths eating plants that humans grow.

    In addition to caring for bats, Kashmer works to help the public understand why they’re worth saving. Throughout history, humans have feared these mysterious creatures. Made-up stories about Dracula and bats attacking people haven’t helped. 

    In reality, bats are afraid of humans. Only three of the more than 1,300 types of bats on Earth feed on blood. None of these “vampire bats” currently live in the U.S. And even if they did, people would be safe. Vampire bats mainly feed on pigs, horses, and birds.

    Most bats actually eat insects—an enormous number of insects. This helps humans. Without bats, there would be more mosquitoes that could spread diseases—and more moths feasting on vegetables that humans grow.

Michael Durham/Minden Pictures

Fly Away

    So what happened to you, the little brown bat? Luckily, Kashmer found your limp body on the ground. She picked you up with gentle hands. For months, she nursed you back to health. 

    Then one warm evening, Kashmer carried you outside. And you knew exactly what to do: You took flight. Kashmer watched proudly as you disappeared into the night. 

    You were finally strong and free. And it filled her with joy and delight.

    So what happened to you, the little brown bat? Kashmer found you on the ground. She picked you up. For months, she cared for you.

    Then one night, she took you outside. You took flight. She watched as you disappeared into the night.

    You were strong and free. And Kashmer was happy.

    So what happened to you, the little brown bat? Luckily, Kashmer found your limp body on the ground and gently picked you up. For months, she nursed you back to health.

    Then one warm evening, Kashmer carried you outside. And you knew exactly what to do: You took flight. Kashmer watched proudly as you disappeared into the night.

    You were finally strong and free, and it filled her with joy and delight.

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ACTIVITY: 
Finding text evidence

Courtesy Jackie Kashmer

Bat Hero  
Jackie Kashmer helps sick and injured bats—then releases them back into the wild. She even has a bat hotline that people can call if they come across a bat in need!

You’ve just read “Hunting the Bat Killer”. Now do this activity to help you better understand the article.

Tip: Text evidence means details in a story that support an answer, or show that it is true.

What to do: Use text evidence—or details from the article—to answer the questions below. We did the first one for you.

You’ve just read “Hunting the Bat Killer”. Now do this activity to help you better understand the article.

Tip: Text evidence means details in a story that support an answer, or show that it is true.

What to do: Use text evidence—or details from the article—to answer the questions below. We did the first one for you.

You’ve just read “Hunting the Bat Killer”. Now do this activity to help you better understand the article.

Tip: Text evidence means details in a story that support an answer, or show that it is true.

What to do: Use text evidence—or details from the article—to answer the questions below. We did the first one for you.

Why might some people think that bats aren’t worth saving? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the first section and “Worth Saving.”

Answer: Humans have hated bats for thousands of years. They fear them and have heard made-up stories about bats attacking people.

Why might some people think that bats aren’t worth saving? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the first section and “Worth Saving.”

Answer: Humans have hated bats for thousands of years. They fear them and have heard made-up stories about bats attacking people.d.

Why might some people think that bats aren’t worth saving? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the first section and “Worth Saving.”

Answer: Humans have hated bats for thousands of years. They fear them and have heard made-up stories about bats attacking people.

How do experts think that white-nose syndrome traveled to America? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the section “A Mysterious Disease.”

How do experts think that white-nose syndrome traveled to America? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the section “A Mysterious Disease.”

How do experts think that white-nose syndrome traveled to America? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the section “A Mysterious Disease.”

What are two things that Jackie Kashmer does to help sick bats? 

HINT: Look for the answer in the section “The Bat Woman.”