White-nose disease was first discovered in a single bat cave in upstate New York in 2006. Since then, the fatal fungal illness, which shows up as white patches on the faces and wings of hibernating bats, has spread to 16 states and crossed the Canadian border. The fungus, Geomyces destrucans, is now killing bats in caves, mine shafts, and abandoned buildings as far south as North Carolina, and as far west as Oklahoma. Biologists say that a million bats have died so far, and they add that, unless a way is found to stop the disease, within two decades bats may be entirely extirpated from some regions of the country.
The little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) has been hardest hit by the sickness—but that’s only because the little brown is the most common of our bat species. There are 22 other species of American bats that also hibernate in caves, and many of those bats are being affected as well...
Bats apparently spread the disease to one another when they gather in groups to hibernate. Biologists note that damp, cool caves are ideal places for a fungus to grow. According to scientists, people may also unwittingly be spreading the disease on their shoes and clothing when they travel from one cave to another. As a result, wildlife biologists recommend that people stay out of caves where bats are hibernating.
Another way people can help bats is by using as few pesticides as possible. Each night, bats eat up to two-thirds of their body weight in insects, and when the insects they eat have been exposed to insecticides, the poisonous chemicals can quickly build up to levels that cause reproductive problems, or even death, in the bats.
White-Nose Disease Has Killed A Million Bats So Far: —And There’s No Cure On The Horizon