A fungal disease called white nose syndrome is racing through bat populations across Turtle Island and has killed millions of the tiny mammals, attacking them as they hibernate.
And its DNA suggests it’s a European import, according to the "Green Blog" in The New York Times.
“Since the fungus was found in New York in 2006, genetic tests have shown that the spores are closely related to microbes found in Europe, suggesting that the disease was imported,” The New York Times reported in a recent story. “Many European bats seem immune to the disease even though they are carrying the spores.”
Sound familiar? So will these stats: More than 5.5 million of the creatures have been killed in 19 U.S. states and four provinces in Canada, the Times reported in mid-February.
As the Times points out, these bats would have eaten 8,000 tons of insects annually that would normally plague forests and agricultural plants.
Moreover, the manner of death sounds particularly hideous: U.S. Geological Survey wildlife pathologist Carol Meteyer told The New York Times that although the fungus attacks the bat as it hibernates, the damage is caused by the animal’s own immune system, which springs into action when the animal awakens in spring but kills the bat’s own healthy tissue into the bargain.
Although bats spread the disease when traveling between caves, the spores can also hitchhike on the shoes and clothes of humans. So officials at the federal and local level are cautioning spelunkers and miners alike to take measures to avoid spreading the fungus as they travel, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Ann Froschauer told the Times.
Most recently, white nose syndrome was found in three caves in Virginia’s Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, according to the Times, and has been confirmed in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Scientists are urging quick protective action, such as placing more bats on the Endangered Species list.
“White nose syndrome is here, and it’s moving really quickly,” Froschauer told the Times.