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Deadly fungus spreads to ninth North American bat species

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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bats exhibiting signs of white-nose syndromeThe deadly fungal infection that afflicts bats known as white-nose syndrome (WNS) has now been found on another U.S. bat species, the ninth since the infection was first observed four years ago. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, WNS has now beset 20 percent of North America’s bat species.

WNS’s latest victim is the southeastern myotis (Myotis austroriparius), which lives in the Gulf Coastal Plain and the lower Mississippi Alluvial Plain. An infected myotis bat was found in Virginia’s Pocahontas State Park in May. It died soon after it was captured by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

The fungus that causes WNS grows on bats’ facial skin and flight membranes, possibly causing them to starve. In caves where it has been observed bats have suffered morality rates ranging from 75 to 100 percent. It has killed at least one million bats and spread throughout the eastern U.S. since the fungus was first observed in New York State in 2006. WNS was also recently discovered in Ontario and Quebec. Caves in many states have been closed to prevent humans from possibly further spreading the fungus.

Scientists still do not know what causes WNS, nor how to prevent or cure it.

Image: Bats exhibiting signs of white-nose syndrome. Photo by Al Hicks; New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service





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  1. 1. Bot Warble 5:04 pm 06/15/2010

    When will US Fish and Wildlife Service admit the greatest possibility for the cause of WNS in the US is caving equipment/cavers who were in Europe infecting the initial US caves? WNS has been in Europe for years with no die-offs. When will US FWS actually begin a real program to save bats in this country, i.e., actually closing caves, not "recommending." Hope all the little white boys crawling around in caves think it’s been worth it!

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  2. 2. Och Kin 7:26 pm 06/16/2010

    The geomyces fungus is unlikely to be spread by "little white boys". It is not bacterial nor viral and it is spread by spores like any other fungus. Missouri has just shut down 110 of it’s more than 6300 caves, literally a drop in the bucket. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service graciously allotted a mere $32,000.00 to seal these caves while still allowing access to the bats. This token action is little more than preemptive damage control. The bats that have died in New York alone would have eaten 700 tons of bugs last year (mostly mosquitoes). This means that there will inevitably be human outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile, Encephalitis, Dengue Fever, and a myriad of others. When the media and C.D.C. finally start pointing fingers, the Fish and Wildlife Service has a prepared response by saying that "We closed the caves!". An effective treatment and preventative device that is inexpensive, self-contained, and solar powered has been developed and tested by a tour guide at Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Missouri. The problem lies with the experts in cave biology that refuse to even respond to emails and phone calls regarding this device. There is an unwritten Caste system with Ph.D.s and cave biologists being the elite and tour guides in showcaves being the lowest of the low. If a researcher cannot find the solution with their ample grants and university backing they will definitely not listen to a pariah tour guide that developed an effective treatment and preventative on a shoestring budget and risk credibility, funding, and even tenure and professional reputation. Don’t blame the "Little White Boys"…….when it is the academic and intellectual elitists that are wasting time and money while the white-nose syndrome is reaching pandemic proportions…..and this "Little White Boy" who has spent more than 45 years as an avid caver is not afraid to sign his name.
    -Lee West-

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