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Fungus Wiping Out Bats Arrives In St. Louis Area

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-- Alarming news about bats in Missouri and Illinois – and a disease that’s been wiping out bats by the millions in the Northeast.

That disease, White Nose Syndrome, has now shown up in the St. Louis area – on both sides of the river.

The caves here in the Rockwoods Reservation in Wildwood are favorite bat “hangouts”.

Each bat can eat 1,000 insects an hour.  With summer comes bug season – that means bat season – and we need those bats.

“They are first line of defense against insects that would decimate crops,” said Dan Zarlenga, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Conservation. “They eat a lot of mosquitos and other insects that could transmit diseases among humans as well.  So they’re very valuable in the ecosystem.”

Our bug-eating friends have been estimated to provide more than $50 billion worth of pest control for U.S. farmers and their crops.

Those bats love Missouri, with an estimated 6300 caves for bats to hide and hibernate in – among the most cave-rich states in the country.

Now, Missouri and Illinois are among the 20 states with documented cases of documented cases of White Nose Syndrome:  a white fungus that has killed  an estimated 5 to 7 million bats in the U.S.;  the fungus prevalent around their noses, heads,  and wings. Researchers believe it throws off the bats’ natural instincts for hibernation.

“It basically causes them to come out in the winter when they should be hibernating.  As they’re doing that they’re using up stores of fat that would normally get them through the winter.  So as the result of unnecessary use of that fat they end up dying of starvation or freezing,” Zarlenga said.  “The best defense right now is to prevent it from spreading.”

That means closing caves to the public; even installing bars to allow bats to get in and out – not people.  It turns out we may be spreading the fungus, and killing off species that may be hard to look at, but perhaps even harder to live without.

“A very good likelihood is that it can be spread on people’s clothing and caving gear.  So, as they go into 1 cave and explore that cave then go to another cave, they could be carrying the fungus on their clothes or caving gear,” Zarlenga said.

There’s been no mass die-off here.

There has yet to be a documented case in St. Louis County.

But Zarlenga said there had been 19 cases or indications of the diseases in 7 Missouri counties, including Washington, Lincoln, Pike, Crawford and Perry.

Illinois has a confirmed case near Waterloo, in Monroe County.  So White Nose Syndrome is here.

 

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