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The Fungus Amongus

New research sheds light on exactly how white-nose syndrome kills bats.

As we battle the recent cold snap with puffy coats and hot drinks, many species of bats are cozied up in caves, riding out the winter in hibernation. Unfortunately, hibernating bats are especially vulnerable to white-nose syndrome; Psuedogymnoascus destructans—the fungus that causes the disease—thrives under cold, humid conditions (i.e. caves).

A new study is the first to detail just how the fungus claims its victims, from infection to death. Before any external signs of the disease emerge (like the lesions that glow yellow under UV light), the fungus has already begun depleting the bats’ energy stores and triggering life-threatening physiological imbalances. 

Since 2006, white-nose syndrome has killed more than five million bats on the continent, with mortality rates of 90 percent to 100 percent in some locations. Now that scientists have a better picture of what’s going on, they might be able to intercede at some point in the fungal attack to halt the epidemic. Until then, many bats will never see another spring. 

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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