Ithaca (WSYR-TV) -- More than one million bats have dropped dead over the last five years due to a mysterious illness called white-nose syndrome and finally, scientists say they know why. It turns out, a long suspected fungus is to blame. Scientists now hope they’ll be able to help save the bats from extinction.
Thousands of bats in New York have already been killed due to white-nose syndrome.
“It causes severe infections and actually can create holes in the wing membrane itself," Paul Curtis with Cornell University said. "So, it really is a destructive skin fungus and probably very irritating to the bat.”
Curtis and other scientists at Cornell University have been researching white-nose syndrome since it was first discovered in Albany back in 2006.
“The spread has been just absolutely phenomenal. Now it exists more than 1,200 miles from the source in just a period of four years,” Curtis said.
Pinpointing the cause now means scientists have a better chance at containing the fungus. If left unchecked, species like the little brown bat could become extinct within the decade. And what many may not realize is that we rely on bats to eat bugs that destroy our crops.
“A very large colony may consume hundreds of thousands of insects in a night,” Curtis said.
Bats also eat mosquitoes, which breed heavily in wet, wooded areas. The West Nile Virus and EEE season in Central New York was particularly active this past summer, including one human death from EEE.
But Curtis says the problem will be particularly hard to get a hold of since it affects bats when they’re hibernating. Time is ticking though. Some colonies in New York have already been nearly wiped out.
White-nose syndrome is moving south and west. It has now spread to 16 states, but the northeast is by far the hardest hit. The USGS says declines in this region far exceed 80 percent.