Iowa Public Television

 

Deadly Bat Fungus in Missouri, Farthest West Yet

posted on April 6, 2012


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A disease that has killed millions of

bats across multiple states and Canada has been found in Missouri,

marking its advent west of the Mississippi River and spelling

possible trouble for agriculture in the region, officials said

Monday.

     White nose syndrome has been confirmed in three bats in two

caves in Lincoln County, north of St. Louis, the Missouri

Department of Conservation said. The name describes a white fungus

found on the faces and wings of infected bats and has not been

found to infect humans or other animals. Scientists estimate the

ailment has killed at least 5.7 million bats in 16 states and

Canada.

     First detected in 2006 west of Albany, N.Y., white nose syndrome

has spread to hibernating bats from the Northeast to the South and

had been found only as far west as Kentucky until the Missouri

discovery. It also has been detected in four Canadian provinces.

     "White-nose syndrome in Missouri is following the deadly

pattern it has exhibited elsewhere," Mollie Matteson, a bat

specialist with the conservation group Center for Biological

Diversity said in a release. "First the fungus shows up on a few

healthy bats. A couple of years later, the disease strikes. And if

the pattern continues, we can expect that in another few years, the

majority of Missouri's hibernating bats will be dead."

     Ann Froschauer, lead spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Service's investigation into white nose syndrome, said the spread

of the disease to Missouri could impact crops because bats subsist

at least in part on crop pests.

     "Bats are the primary predator of night-flying insects, and

that includes moths and beetles ... and many of those are crop

pests," she said.

     Froschauer said a recent study estimated bats provide about $22

billion a year in "ecological services" in part because of all

the pests they consume.

     "They eat tons of insects," she said. "It's sort of

exponential in terms of what the loss of the species can bring."

     The Missouri Department of Conservation estimated Missouri's

gray bats alone eat about 540 tons of insects each year.

     "They are our front-line defense against many insect pests

including some moths, certain beetles and mosquitoes," said Tony

Elliott, a bat biologist with the department of conservation.

     White nose syndrome is caused by a fungus that prompts bats to

wake from their winter hibernation and die after they fly into the

cold air searching for insects. The fungus was found in Missouri in

2010, but the disease was only recently documented, according to

the conservation department.

     The conservation department said the caves in Missouri where the

infected bans were found have been closed to the public because

disturbing bats when they're in caves can stress the bats and

affect their health.

 


Tags: bat fungus Missouri