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Bat Crisis: White-nose Syndrome
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TIME, June 15, 2010

White-Nose Syndrome Kills Bats Dead
By Bryan Walsh

If white-nose syndrome attacked a cuter species, we'd be all over it. But just because bats that are being afflicted—and not cute bunnies—doesn't make the sudden spread of this disease any less worrying. Today the Center for Biological Diversity reported an outbreak of the disease in a new species of bat, the southeastern myotis, in Virginia. That means nine species of bats in 14 states have been hit by the disease, with populations in some states—New York, Vermont and Massachusetts—plummeting rapidly. Here's what the CBD had to say:

“The southeastern myotis is the latest, but probably not the last, bat species to be afflicted by white-nose syndrome,” said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Already, the disease has hit one-fifth of all bat species in North America, and it is showing absolutely no sign of slowing its deadly pace.”

No one knows quite how white-nose syndrome spreads or even how it kills bats, although it may cause them to starve. What's clear is that the mortality rate is high—75% to 100% in some affected caves, and the fungus is believed to have killed some 1 million bats since it was first discovered in New York state in 2006. There is no known cure. The CBD is calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Interior to appoint a full-time, high-level white-nose syndrome director—that'd look good on a business card—and they're also asking Congress to provide $5 million to fight the disease in 2011. Before you complain about another waste of your tax money, think about this: bats eats insects. Lots and lots of insects. And if they were to suddenly disappear from the Northeast, well, that could make for a very buggy summer.

© 2010 Time Inc.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton