Scientists Look to European Bats for Answers on White Nose Fungus in U.S.

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According to the Associated Press, Craig Willis, a biologist from the University of Winnipeg, is looking for a solution to control white nose fungus, a disease that is killing bats in several U.S. states, by studying a similar fungus in European bats. Numerous bats in Europe have survived the fungus and scientists believe white nose fungus spread to the U.S. from Europe.

Willis' research has focused around finding this link and proving that the fungus is an invasive species. This would ultimately lead to scientists researching why the fungus has been so fatal in the U.S. and help scientists manage the disease. Here are some facts about white nose fungus and how its impacted bats in the country:

* The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that white nose fungus, also known as white nose syndrome, was first found in February 2006 in a cave about 40 miles of Albany, N.Y.

* As of October 2010, white nose syndrome has been confirmed in New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Maryland, as well as several areas in Canada.

* Government agencies have continued to close off caves to the public in hopes of quarantining the disease while scientists try to find out more about the spread of the problem, according to Wired.

* By declaring the fungus an invasive species, wildlife agencies would have increased access to funds in order to fight it.

* Since March of 2008, scientists estimate that more than one million bats have died from the disease, with a majority being little brown bats, according to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center.

* Infected bats can be identified by having white fungal growth on their muzzles and or wing tissue, though infected bats don't always have these symptoms, in addition to displaying abnormal behavior.

* An article from ABC News noted that the abnormal behavior associated with white nose syndrome is what kills the bats, specifically causing them to end their hibernation early and starving to death in winter.

* In some areas hit by the disease, the mortality rate of infected bats is as high as 90 percent.

* Bats are especially susceptible to white nose syndrome during hibernation since bats congregate in large numbers in caves, reported the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

* Indiana bats are likely the most vulnerable it's a state and federally endangered species with 50 percent of the bats hibernating in a former mine that has been confirmed as having white nose syndrome.

Rachel Bogart provides an in-depth look at current environmental issues and local Chicago news stories. As a college student from the Chicago suburbs pursuing two science degrees, she applies her knowledge and passion to both topics to garner further public awareness.

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