Cause confirmed in bat scourge

A suspicious mold that turns bat noses a fuzzy white is a primary killer

It’s official: A systematic test with initially healthy little brown bats shows that a fungus is the primary cause of white-nose syndrome. The lethal disease has devastated bats hibernating in 16 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces (infected bat pictured). In addition, tests show that the fungus, Geomyces destructans, can spread by contact in shared hibernation spots, David Blehert of the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis., and his colleagues report online October 26 in Nature. The causal fungus is widespread in Europe but doesn’t cause big dieoffs there, possibly because the bats had a long time to develop ways to cope. Pinpointing the exact cause of the syndrome will help wildlife experts focus research on what to do about the scourge.

The fungus Geomyces destructans covers the muzzle of this little brown bat. The fungus has now been confirmed as the primary cause of white-nose syndrome, which has devastated bat populations in North America. Alan Hicks/New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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