The Department of the Interior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service unveiled a plan Tuesday to stop the spread of white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal infection detected in Ohio in March that is devastating bat populations.
Bats play a critical a role by eating insects such as mosquitoes and a large number of other insects that harm crops, scientists say.
Pest-control provided by the night-fliers saves the nation's agricultural industry at least $3 billion annually, scientific studies show.
One of the largest bat habitats in Ohio is the privately-owned Lewisburg Limestone Mine in Preble County. There, the bat population is estimated to be greater than 20,000. It's also the site of a haunted cave attraction in October.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said Tuesday that, "white-nose syndrome has wreaked havoc on Ohio's agricultural industry and this road map is a good first step in combating this disease. By bringing in federal resources to tackle this syndrome, we can protect Ohio's agricultural economy and prevent this deadly disease."
The condition was first detected in New York State in 2006. It has killed more than a million cave-hibernating bats in eastern North America. Since its initial discovery, white-nose has been confirmed in 15 states and two Canadian provinces.
The disease got its name from how the fungus appears and grows into white tufts on the muzzles of infected bats.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, biologists believe the main method of disease transfer is bat-to-bat. But it's also believed that humans can transport fungal spores on shoes, clothes, and other gear.
The syndrome does not affect humans, in part because the fungus requires temperatures cooler than the human body to survive.
ODNR said people can help slow the spread of white-nose and cut down on disturbing bats by staying out of caves and mines.
Anyone observing more than six dead bats or large numbers of bats flying outside in the winter, especially near a cave or mine where bats are known to hibernate, should report that to the ODNR Division of Wildlife at email@example.com, or 1-800-WILDLIFE (945-3543).
By Steve Bennish - Hamilton JournalNews (MCT)
Copyright (c) 2011, Hamilton JournalNews, Ohio
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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