Biologists search caves and abandoned mines hoping to save bats from white-nose syndrome

From Canada to Oklahoma, scientists are searching caves and mines to determine how a devastating invasive fungal bat disease called white-nose syndrome will behave when it hits native bat populations in the West.

Since 2006, the disease has killed millions of bats and threatens formerly abundant bat populations with extirpation or extinction. The disease is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans and named by the fuzzy spots that appear on the bats’ nose and wings.

It was discovered outside of Albany, NY in 2006 and has spread to 36 states and seven provinces of Canada, wiping out whole colonies of bats. Having ravaged much of the east, white-nose syndrome is now heading west at the rate of one state per year.

Bats play a critical ecological role in pollinating plants and controlling mosquitos and other insects.