Scientists studying the highly contagious fungus that causes the deadly white-nose syndrome in bats have estimated 5.7 to 6.7 million bats have succumbed to the disease in United States and Canada, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The FWS researchers concluded the number of bats killed by WNS, which has spread rapidly over several years through at least 16 U.S. states ranging as far west as Oklahoma, is millions higher than scientists estimated previously, and new funding has been made available for studying WNS and saving bat populations that help control insects and pollinate plants, the agency announced.
First noted in February 2006 affecting little brown bats in a cave near Albany, New York, and characterized by white blotches growing around the animals' muzzles, WNS wakes doomed bats from winter hibernation, and they die after flying into the frigid air searching in vain for insects to eat, according to the FWS.
As Digital Journal reported in April 2011 and April 2010, the disease has continued to spread rapidly throughout the northeastern United States and into Canada, alarming conservationists and ecologists.
ScienceDaily reported in November 2011 that U.S. Geological Survey scientists at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin first definitively identified the cold-loving fungus Geomyces destructans as the cause of WNS, and ScienceDaily reported in February 2011 that National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis researchers concluded simply culling infected bats would not prevent regional extinctions.