By RYAN TRACY
The fungal disease that decimated bat populations in the Northeast has spread farther west and south, U.S. officials said, raising the pressure on scientists to find ways to protect animals that are vital in battling crop-eating insects.
The disease, known as white-nose syndrome after the fuzzy white residue it leaves on victims, has been found in Missouri and Alabama this year for the first time, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The disease is also intensifying in other states. Researchers last month confirmed its presence in six Indiana counties where they hadn’t previously found it. Biologists are particularly concerned about the spread in Indiana and Missouri, which host the already-endangered Indiana bat and gray bat in a relatively small number of caves.
“We could very rapidly see massive population declines if [the disease] arrives at just a handful of sites,” said Jeremy Coleman, who is coordinating the Fish and Wildlife Service’s response to the syndrome.
First identified near Albany, N.Y., in 2006, white-nose syndrome has now spread to 19 states and four Canadian provinces, killing an estimated 5.5 million of the flying mammals.