The disease killing bats by the millions might be finding its way to the Lowcountry, where the mosquito-eating creatures thrive.
A few facts about the disease that is killing bats:
Caused by a fungus in caves and mines where hibernating bats roost for long periods to survive winter cold.
Known to affect more than half the 47 bat species found in the Untied States.
Found in 25 states in the eastern United States and in Canada.
Estimated to have killed 5.7 million bats since first documented in 2007.
Apparently disorients the bats, which fly off or roost outside protected areas in lethal cold.
Not known to affect humans; thousands of people have gone into caves and mines where the fungus is found. But people are cautioned to be wary of the fungus and to take care not to get close enough to transport the tiny spores to other areas inadvertently. Federal authorities have closed off some caves on public lands.
For more information or what to do if you find a dead bat, go to whitenosesyndrome.org.
A bat in the Midlands tested positive for white nose syndrome recently - the first confirmed infection outside the mountains and only the second in the state.
In the Southeast, the disease has been thought to be confined largely to mountain areas, because it infects bats hibernating to survive cold winter.
"I think we will find the fungus in our coastal bats. The questions are when and where," said Mary Bunch, S.C. Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist.
The bigger question, she said, is what impact it would have on bats here, which don't hibernate, although some "torpor," or go dormant during cold spells.
The disease is caused by a fungus found in caves and mines where hibernating bats tend to roost. It's not known to be harmful to humans, but not a lot is understood about it. The syndrome is thought to spread from bat to bat.
"We don't have caves on the coast, but we do have communal roosts under bridges and in buildings," said bat researcher Lydia Moore, of Johns Island, who is studying the mammals' behavior in Lowcountry wetlands.
That could be big trouble. Some bat species migrate seasonally.
Bats, like many other animal and plant species, are thought to be declining - some species critically - because of threats such as white nose syndrome, wind turbine blades and habitat loss.
Their diminishing numbers raise concern because of their vital link in the ecosystem. For example, bats are said to eat their weight in mosquitoes every night, and that is worth some $22.9 billion per year in pesticide savings for farmers and an untold boon for limiting pollutants in the environment.
Since the syndrome was first documented in 2007 it has been estimated to have killed nearly 6 million bats in the eastern United States and Canada.
"An important question that researchers need to be looking into (is) can white nose syndrome be spread to areas where there aren't cave-dwelling bats?" Moore said. "If a contaminated bat is roosting under a bridge on the coast, it seems possible that it could spread the fungus to other bats in the roost - or transmit spores to the walls of the roost."
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