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
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
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.