Fungus continues to kill off bats on the East coast

    The fungus that has been killing bats on the East coast for two years has reduced New Jersey’s population of little brown bats by 80 percent. Experts say this winter, it will likely attack western Pennsylvania’s bat colonies.

    The fungus that has been killing bats on the East coast for two years has reduced New Jersey’s population of little brown bats by 80 percent. Experts say this winter, it will likely attack western Pennsylvania’s bat colonies.

    White nose syndrome was first discovered in New York in 2008, and the fungus that causes it has spread as far west as Tennessee. Scientists don’t know why the fungus that causes a white fuzz to grow on the noses, ears and wings of bats kills them. But they do know it strikes during the winter months while bats are hibernating in caves.

    MacKenzie Hall, a biologist with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation in New Jersey, says that’s when the bats are most at risk.

    Hall: Their heart rate drops way down, their metabolism all but shuts down, and that makes them really vulnerable to alien things that can affect them during that period and that’s when the fungus really takes hold.

    DeeAnn Reader, a researcher at Bucknell University, says most of the little brown bats in eastern Pennsylvania have been killed already. She expects to see populations in Western Pennsylvania plummet by up to 90 percent this winter.

    Reader: You basically walk in and you see these huge clusters of bats that are basically almost fully consumed by this fungus that’s growing all over their bodies and you know that those animals are going to be dying.

    Scientists are working on figuring out why the fungus kills bats, and are trying to prevent its spread. Researchers project that insect-eating little brown bats could be extinct in the wild in as few as 16 years.

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