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Fungal disease responsible for killing millions of bats heads west

White-nose syndrome, which has been killing scores of bats, has been found on the West coast for the first time.

white-nose syndrome
"Little Brown Bat with White Nose Syndrome (Greeley Mine, cropped)" by Marvin Moriarty/USFWS

The United States has seen an extreme drop in its bat population due to a fungal disease that has been spreading rapidly across the country. Now, for the first time, authorities have found evidence of the disease in Washington, having discovered an infected bat just 30 miles east of Seattle. This marks the first time that the disease has been found on the West coast.

Known as “white-nose syndrome”, the fungal disease infects the snouts of bats, and disturbs their hibernation. If the infection grows serious enough to wake the bats, they are forced out of hibernation early. Having woken early, the bats are unable to go back into hibernation and usually end up starving to death due to a lack of available food.

White-nose syndrome earned its name due to a white, fuzzy mold growth that appears on the bat’s nose. The fungus is usually transferred from bat to bat, but often hitches a ride on humans and hiking equipment when traveling from cave to cave.

The disease has been found in 28 states so far, and 6 Canadian provinces. Still, up until now the fungus had not reached the west coast of the United States. It is believe that the disease has killed roughly 6 million bats.

The discovery was made after hikers came across a sick bat. They transported the bat to a nearby animal shelter, where it died two days later. Examining it, authorities concluded that the bat had been infected with white-nose syndrome.

Researchers are currently looking for a way to combat the disease. Controlling climates in hibernating areas, vaccines, and other treatments are being tested. Bats are important for controlling insect populations, with a single bat able to consume.

Treating bats and fighting the disease, however, is difficult due to bats, their habits, and their habitats. Bats are often found deep in the wilderness, and in caves and other hard to reach shelters.

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