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October 26, 2011

Scientists tie fungus to deadly bat disease

Scientists have confirmed a fungus is causing deadly white-nosed syndrome in bats across much of North America, including western Maryland.

In an article today in the journal Nature, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and other researchers identified Geomyces destructans as the cause of the rapidly spreading syndrome, which has been blamed for severe declines in bat populations in the Northeast.

Researchers found that 100 percent of healthy little brown bats exposed to G. destructans while hibernating in captivity developed white-nosed syndrome.  They also demonstrated that the fungus spreads through contact between individual bats.

More than 200 bats with the characteristic white fungus were found hibernating in an Allegany County cave near Cumberland in 2010, along with several dead animals, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.   Bats with suspected white-nose syndrome also have turned up in Garrett and Washington counties, according to the USGS. To see a map showing where the disease has been spotted, go here.

(Hibernating brown bat with white muzzle typical of white-nose syndrome.  USGS photo via Reuters)

Eastern bat populations have plummeted since the syndrome was first seen in New York in 2006.  Since then, it's now found in 16 states and four Canadian provinces. In the Northeast, where it appears most intense, bats have declined by 80 percent.

Researchers hope that confirming the cause of white-nosed syndrome will help wildlife managers figure out how to protect bat populations. For now, though, they're asking people to stay out of caves, tunnels and other spots known to be big bat hangouts, and in any case urging precautions be taken when venturing around bats, such as decontaminating clothing and equipment.

Though some may find bats creepy or a nuisance if they get in a house, they perform a valuable ecological service by feeding on insects that can damage crops and gardens or spread disease.  A single bat can eat more than 1,000 bugs in a night.

(Hibernating brown bat with white muzzle typical of white-nose syndrome.  USGS photo via Reuters)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 1:39 PM | | Comments (0)

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About the bloggers
Tim WheelerTim Wheeler reports on the environment and Chesapeake Bay. A native of West Virginia, he has focused mainly on Maryland's environment since moving here in 1983. Along the way, he's crewed aboard a skipjack in the bay, canoed under city streets up the Jones Fall from the Inner Harbor, and gone deep underground in a western Maryland coal mine. He loves seafood, rambles in the country and good stories. He hopes to share some here.

Contributor Christy Zuccarini has been blogging about the local DIY craft scene for a year for She brings her pespective on all things handmade to B'More Green, where she will highlight projects you can do yourself as well as crafters who are integrating sustainable methods and materials.

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