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Bat "White Nose Syndrome" found in Missouri

A little brown bat showing symptoms of White Nose Syndrome.
(Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
A little brown bat showing symptoms of White Nose Syndrome.

By Veronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis, MO – State officials have confirmed the first Missouri case of "White Nose Syndrome," a fungal disease that has killed as many as 2 million bats in the Eastern U.S. over the past three years.

Laboratory tests confirmed the presence of the fungus in a little brown bat found in a private cave in Pike County, about 80 miles northwest of St. Louis.

Missouri Department of Conservation cave biologist Bill Elliot says the fungal spores penetrate the bats' skin, disrupting their winter hibernation and possibly speeding up their metabolism.

"And it causes them to starve - lose weight, lose body fat, and they starve before spring arrives and either die in the cave, or fly out on the landscape and die out there somewhere."

The syndrome spreads from bat to bat and has not been found to infect other animals or humans.

Bill Elliot says people may contribute to the spread of the disease by carrying the fungal spores into caves on their clothing. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has established rules for decontaminating clothes and caving gear.

Elliott says a number of caves on Missouri Department of Conservation lands will be closed to protect bats and the critical role they play in the environment.

"Gray bats are eating 540 tons of insects every year, and that is a lot of bugs, that's like 223 billion bugs, and a lot of those are pest species that they're eating."

Once a cave is infected, Elliot says it may remain contaminated for years - possibly indefinitely.