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Bucks Co. bat population devastated by fungus

By Bo Koltnow, Reporter, BKoltnow@wfmz.com
Published On: Apr 02 2013 08:00:28 AM CDT
Updated On: Apr 02 2013 08:11:40 AM CDT

Bats dying from fungus

DURHAM TWP., Pa. -

A dreaded disease is taking a deadly toll on the bat population in Durham Township, Bucks County.

Less than two dozen bats are left out of a population that used to number in the thousands!

It looks harmless: a spec of white on the nose but for bats, it's a death sentence.

Scientists call it white nose syndrome, a fast spreading fungus ,that causes bats to awaken from hibernation, then starve to death.

"It's quite damaging and quite alarming. Sixty to 90% mortality rate," Cedar Crest College Professor of Biology John Cigliano said.

Since the fungus was first discovered in 2006, more than six million bats have died.

Recently environmentalists have confirmed all but 23 of the more than 8,000 bats hibernating in a Durham Township, Bucks County cave have died due to white nose syndrome.

This cave is thought to be the second largest spot in the state.

"This is just another example of an invasive species that once it gets into the environment can have fast and wide ranging affects," said Cigliano.

It's believed hikers brought the fungus back from Europe. In just six years it has spread from New York to Georgia.

"These bats eat literally tons of insects per year," Cigliano explained.

They provide an ecosystem service crucial for farmers.

"If these bats decline, there is nothing to eat insects and have human health and economic ramifications," Cigliano added.

Some say farmers could lose billions each year. However local growers we spoke with have yet to feel an impact.

But the question is for how long? With no known cure, Cigliano advises anyone hiking in caves to follow strict precautions.

"When people do go from cave to cave-- change clothes. Be very careful bringing soil out of the caves," he said.

An animal given a bum wrap by Hollywood now needs real help in quite possibly a cave near you.