Mysterious Disease Linked To Death Of Bucks County Bat Colony

Mysterious Disease Linked To Death Of Massive Bucks County Bat Colony

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A member of the Pennsylvania Game Commission examines a bat inside of the abandoned iron ore mine in Durham, Pa. (Pennsylvania Game Commission) A member of the Pennsylvania Game Commission examines a bat inside of the abandoned iron ore mine in Durham, Pa. (Pennsylvania Game Commission)
BUCKS COUNTY, Pa. -

A mysterious die-off has caused a massive bat colony in upper Bucks County to all-but-disappear, and it's part of a mysterious disease that has so far killed at least 6 million bats across the United States.

Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist Greg Turner says only a handful of live bats remain at the abandoned iron ore mine in Durham, Pa. that was once home to thousands.

The only clue?

A white fungus, discovered around the muzzle and sometimes the wings of the cave-dwelling bats.

It's called White Nose Syndrome and it appears to have changed the bats' behavior during winter hibernation.

"The bats," says Turner, "seem to be rather lethargic and seem to be moving from their typical roost, toward the entrance, and then about mid-winter, they seem to be flying out of the hibernacula- which is the place where they spend the winter sleeping- and they just fly out into the middle of the winter and die."

It may be the fungus that rouses the bats from hibernation and causes them to become active without the body fat needed to handle such activity. They search in vain for food and die of starvation.

So why should you care?

Brenda Malinics has researched, rescued and rehabbed bats for years.

At Temple University, she's known as Bat Woman!

"Bats are the cornerstone of a healthy environment," Malinics tells FOX 29's Bruce Gordon. "They take care of the insects that destroy our crops and they take care of the insects that carry disease. And most people are not aware of the importance that bats play in our environment. But when the bats go away, we are going to be in dire straits and we're seeing that now."

Malinics says giving the bats extra protection in the form of endangered species status might help bring back their numbers, if scientists could figure out exactly what's killing them.

But extra protection for bats could hurt the logging and mining industries, making this a politically charged issue.

Bottom line?

The deaths of these bats puts the balance of nature out of whack, and that could impact all of us before long.

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