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Wednesday, 09 March 2011 21:23

Deadly bat threat spreading in WNC

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Biologists recently confirmed white-nose syndrome at a third site in North Carolina, meaning two counties are now positive for the disease that has killed hundreds of thousands of bats in the eastern United States.

The disease was confirmed late last month in Yancey County. It was previously discovered in a retired Avery County mine and in a cave at Grandfather Mountain State Park.

“We knew that white-nose syndrome was coming and began preparing for its arrival, but we have a lot of work to do to address the impact of this disease on bats and our natural systems” said Chris McGrath, wildlife diversity program coordinator in the N.C. Wildlife Commission’s Wildlife Management Division.

While much remains to be learned about white-nose syndrome, there is evidence that people may inadvertently spread the fungus believed to cause the disease from cave-to-cave. Therefore, the most important step people can take to help bats is staying out of caves and mines.

While there are no known direct human health effects of the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, the impact upon humans, other wildlife, and agriculture as a result of declines in bat populations could be substantial. Bats play a significant role as night-flying insect predators.

At this time, the fungus appears to grow on bat skin in the cave environment during hibernation. Infected bats may spread the fungal spores to other bats and roosts during the warmer summer months; however, the fungus only grows in a narrow range of temperatures (41 to 56 degrees Fahrenheit) in high humidity conditions.

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