Environment
4:22 pm
Fri April 12, 2013

Deadly Bat Fungus Spreading Through Western NC

Bat with white-nose fungus.
Bat with white-nose fungus.
Credit Photo courtesy Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental Conservation

A deadly fungus known as white-nose syndrome has been decimating bat populations in the Eastern United States and is spreading quickly through western portions of North Carolina. It was discovered in upstate New York in 2006. The infection is marked by a white frosting of fungus around the bat's nose, ears, and wings.

Janice Patten is a wildlife biologist with Fort Bragg's Endangered Species Branch, and she's concerned the outbreak could spread to the central part of the state. She says the outbreak would be devastating to humans, since bats eat millions of bugs and other insects.

"The loss of bats will affect us definitely in terms of agriculture in that farmers will have to do more to control pests," she says. "It's going to cause a reduction in the marketable food they produce because of the stress pests put on the crops. It'll cost more if they have to apply more pesticides."

The environmental cost is also a consideration. Patten says pesticides can't target specific pests and could end up in the water supply. The widespread effects are not known. She says more research is needed to determine where bat populations in the Piedmont winter, which is when white-nose syndrome is mostly to strike.