Fungus Kills Millions Of Bats - Experts Fear It Could Spread West

Wildlife Biologists are concerned about a deadly fungus that is rapidly spreading among bat populations.

The "white-nose syndrome," as it is known, has killed as many as 6.7 million bats in the eastern United States and Canada since 2006, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  That estimate was announced this month, and reveals the problem to be much larger than previously thought.  And there is concern that the fungus could spread to the West Coast.

"I think it's completely likely," said Corky Quirk, an educator and bat rescuer with NorCal Bats. 

In a Wednesday interview with FOX40, Quirk explained that the disease could spread across state lines by something as simple as a tourist from California visiting an affected cave on the East Coast, and neglecting to clean their boots.  "You could get on an airplane, fly across the United States and bring it to California tomorrow," she explained. 

Humans cannot catch the fungus.  But we are affected by it because bats are an important part of the food chain.  During the summer months, one female bat alone can eat its weight in insects.  Bats, therefore, help keep insect populations under control, reducing the number of pests than can spread disease and ruin crops.  This, in turn, reduces the need for pesticides.


According to Quirk, bats save the agriculture industry an estimated $20 billion per year.  Yet, only $4 million is spent on researching the white-nose syndrome, she pointed out.

Biologists from U.C. Davis have called for the formation of "an outbreak investigation network" to help study the disease, explore ways to prevent its spread, and educate the public about the problem.