LOUISVILLE, Ky., June 28 (UPI) — Bat caves in the U.S. Midwest are being closed to stop the spread of a fungus that has already killed almost a million East Coast bats, authorities say.
White Nose Syndrome is a fungus irritating bats’ wings and faces burning up fat reserves and waking them up early from hibernation, leaving them, sometimes futilely searching for food and water during harsh winter conditions until they starve and freeze to death, the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal reported Monday.
The syndrome has been confirmed in 14 states decimating bat populations by as much as 95 percent. Almost all state-owned caves in Kentucky and Indiana are closed and will remain so until officials can determine the fungus is not spreading.
“It’s definitely near the realm of an ecological disaster,” said Brooke Slack, a bat biologist at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
Bats may creep some people out, but they play a vital part in the ecosystem by eating their weight in insects feeding on as many as 2,000 to 5,000 bugs a night, The Courier-Journal reported.
“They are the chief predator of night-flying insects,” said Claudia Yundt, manager of Squire Boone Caverns in Mauckport, Ind. “That’s their main goal in life: to eat as many insects as they can.”
Yundt said the loss of thousands of bats, could mean food growers using more pesticides. Many farmers build bat hotels near their fields so they don’t have to spray plants as often, the newspaper reported.
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