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Source of Mysterious Bat Disease Identified April 13, 2012
Bat infected with fungus that causes white nose syndrome.
Bat suffering from white nose syndrome.
The lethal fungus responsible for wiping out bat populations across the eastern half of the United States over the past six years most likely came from Europe, according to a new study.

A team of U.S. and Canadian researchers found the spores that lead to “white nose syndrome” may have been accidentally introduced into America on the clothes, boots or caving gear of tourists.

The disease gets its name from the telltale white powder the spores create on the noses of infected bats.

The fungus is believed to cause bats to repeatedly awaken from hibernation, leading them to exhaust their fat reserves and die long before winter is over.

The fungus is now present across parts of North America as well as Europe.

It recently spread west of the Mississippi for the first time into Missouri.

Researchers observed bats infected with either the American or European strains of the fungus G. destructans, and compared them to uninfected bats.

Both strains set off the usual symptoms with the European strain taking its first victim 17 days earlier than the American.

Given how widely bats travel while foraging, the scientists say it will be difficult to keep the disease from spreading farther.

But the study suggests both the fungus and bats may be evolving to help the flying mammals tolerate the infection better.

Photo: U.S. Forest Service