By Beth Daley, Globe Staff
The deadly white nose syndrome that is killing tens of thousands of bats in New England and New York has apparently spread to Pennsylvania, wildlife officials say.
Scientists had suspected that some bats in the Keystone state could have the sickness but it wasn’t until this month biologists confirmed that bats in an old Mifflin County iron mine in the central part of the state had the white fungus the syndrome gets its name from.
Little brown bats in a Pennsylvania mine have white nose syndrome
(PGC Photo/Joe Kosack)
The illness was first seen two winters ago, when thousands of bats died in four New York caves within seven miles of each other. By last winter, 25 caves and mines spread across 135 miles were found to have sick or dying bats in Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and New York. In addition to the white fungus, affected bats act erratically, flying around in broad daylight in winter – a time they are normally deep in hibernation in ice-encrusted caves and abandoned mines. Scientists believe sick bats are leaving their hibernation sites to find food but dying before they can find any.
The Pennsylvania find deeply concerns researchers because the disease could continue to spread throughout the nation's bat populations as different bats mix and mingle with each other in summer roosts and during winter hibernation.
Pennsylvania biologists have been carefully monitoring mines this winter. In late December, Dr. DeeAnn Reeder, a biologist with Bucknell University, and Greg Turner, a biologist with the Game Commission’s Wildlife Diversity Section, found bats in an old Mifflin County iron mine that exhibited some of the signs of White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), during field investigations into bat hibernation patterns that included weekly monitoring.the sick bats. Several bats were submitted to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, which now is reporting that the bats have preliminarily tested positive for the cold-loving fungi found on many bats with WNS.
“Bats have survived for more than 50 million years because they are tough mammals,” said Lisa Williams, a Game Commission wildlife diversity biologist. “But they have become increasingly vulnerable. White-Nose now presents more uncertainty for bats. Quite frankly, we’re not sure yet that we can help them survive this threat.”