Fish & Wildlife | Ecotrope

Bat killer: "Wave of death" spreading westward

Ecotrope | Feb. 11, 2011 5:54 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:41 p.m.

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OPB’s Ed Jahn has captured some great footage of white-nose syndrome, the fungus that is mysteriously and rapidly killing bats across the U.S.

As of this month, the disease has spread to nine bat species in 15 states, including Missouri and Indiana and Canada’s Ontario and Quebec. New cases were just reported in North Carolina this week. Experts suspect it was brought over from Europe, where the fungus exists but doesn’t kill bats. As it spreads, federal agencies are closing caves and scientists and environmentalists have requests to list some bats as endangered species.

There is little stopping its westward march. Federal agencies are talking about closing western caves to try to stop it. Officials are also asking spelunkers to decontaminate their gear in between caving trips to prevent people from spreading the disease.

The cold-loving fungus tied to white-nose syndrome destroys the flesh in bats’ wings, and causes them to make unusual departures from their normal winter hibernation in search of food and water before they starve to death.

The most optimistic prognosis in Jahn’s report pins its hopes on the fact that bat roosts in the West are smaller and more spread-out than the ones back East. It’s a painful waiting game. But the feds have dedicated $1.6 million in grants to studying the disease more closely.

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