Mysterious bat disease moves closer to Minnesota

1:37 PM, May 19, 2010   |    comments
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Crystal Cave Bats

SPRING VALLEY, Wisc. - If you're not a fan of bats, this headline might sound like something positive, but it's actually a positively terrible problem for our ecosystem. Follow along and we'll explain why.

Since 2006, more than a million bats have died from a disease called White Nose Syndrome. Biologists don't know what causes it, nor do they have a cure, and so far, it's proven to be almost 100 percent fatal in bats that contract it.

The disease is named for the white fungus that forms around the nose of the bats. It was originally found on the East Coast but is quickly moving this direction.

"Apparently it jumped 450 miles in one season," says Lori Naumann with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

While the disease hasn't been found in Minnesota or Wisconsin, it is in 13 other states and as close as Missouri. Why should you care? Well, not only do bats eat those pesky mosquitoes that we love so much in Minnesota, but they are also a big part of our ecosystem.

"They're pollinators and so we rely on them to pollinate flowers, plants and trees and that's very important," says Naumann.

At Crystal Cave in Spring Valley, Wisconsin, they're watching their bat colony closely for signs of the disease.

"I'm anticipating seeing White Nose Syndrome within two years because of how quickly it's spreading," says Jean Cunningham.

The Cunninghams say most of the bats have already left the cave for the summer but it's winter that's the real problem. The disease appears to strike bats that hibernate, like the ones at Crystal Cave. And, the fungus appears to thrive in the cold.

"This is a cold, wet cave and if the fungus does arrive here it will do well here and it will kill a lot of the bats," says Blaze Cunningham.

Biologist say the disease is spread from bat to bat but believe humans can also transport it from cave to cave on their shoes and clothing. That has prompted Indiana DNR officials to close many of their caves to the public.

 Minnesota DNR officials say there are no plans for cave closures here, but they will be posting signs and handing out brochures in the coming months. It will inform people how to decontaminate themselves before and after entering a cave.

There are seven species of bats in Minnesota, four of those hibernate in caves and could potentially be at risk.





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