Millions of bats have died across the U.S. due to a fungal disease that has now spread to Washington state. This is the first time federal wildlife officials have confirmed the white-nose syndrome in the western United States.
The disease – which does not affect other animals or people – was identified in one bat found roughly 30 miles east of Seattle.
Regardless of how humans feel about them, bats are valuable because they protect trees and commercial crops by eating mosquitoes and other insects that could damage them.
According to wildlife officials, this concerning news was not entirely surprising because the fungal bat-killing disease has a rapid spread. It was first confirmed and documented ten years ago in New York, and it has killed more than 6 million hibernating bats ever since.
The white-nose syndrome has been identified in 28 states and five Canadian provinces so far, and before the confirmed case in the state of Washington, the disease had been detected only as far west as Minnesota.
This territorial jump has been somewhat expected, said Jeremy Coleman, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s syndrome coordinator, and the agency has been bracing for it for quite a while now.
Coleman added that finding the disease in one bat suggests the possibility that other bats are infected. The white-nose syndrome was confirmed in a little brown bat, but scientists have yet to find out how many more species are affected, how long the fungus has been present in the Pacific Northwest, and where it came from.
State wildlife authorities urged the population to report any dead or sick bats as it plans to monitor the area for better containment.
According to Coleman, it’s unlikely for the bat found in Washington to have come from the East, as it is part of a western subspecies of the little brown bat population.
As opposed to the East Coast, the bats living in Washington are more likely to be found in trees, buildings, and rock crevices, rather than caves – as people would expect.
The syndrome has been named after the white fuzzy growth scientists discovered on the noses of infected bats. As federal, state, and other groups look for a way to stop the fungus’ spread, scientists mentioned the disease is transmitted primarily from bat to bat.
While also researching treatments for the white-nose syndrome, wildlife officials have considered vaccines and changing the climate in hibernation areas so that fungal growth will be slowed down.
Image Source: MNN