January 23, 2009

Fatal bat condition spreading in Northeast

A lethal condition that has been killing bats in New York for two years has spread into New Jersey and Pennsylvania, wildlife authorities said Friday.

The discovery of hundreds of dead bats and the expansion of white-nose syndrome has left people with a kind of helpless feeling, Mick Valent, a zoologist with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, told the Newark Star-Ledger. You can't start treating something when you don't know the cause of it.

First detected in New York in early 2007, the condition rouses bats from hibernation during winter, from where they take flight, burning stored fat and dropping to the ground dead, the newspaper said.

New York researchers called the condition white-nose syndrome because a white fungus develops around noses and wing membranes of many of the affected bats.

The fungus was present on many dead bats found inside and outside three abandoned mines in Rockaway Township and Denville, where the majority of New Jersey's bat populations are located.

At least six of the nine bat species found in the Northeast appear to be vulnerable to the phenomenon in New York, Vermont and Massachusetts, researchers said. The Pennsylvania Game Commissioner said Thursday the syndrome spread into the state's bat population.