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White-nose syndrome (WNS) was first documented in bats in New York in winter 2006-2007. The syndrome was named for the white fungus that sometimes develops on the muzzle of the bat, giving the appearance of a white nose.
Little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) with white fungus on muzzle, New York 2008
The fungus has been identified as a new species named Geomyces destructans. Places where bats hibernate, such as caves or underground mines (known as 'hibernacula'), are ideal environments for this fungus, as it thrives in cold, damp conditions. It is unclear if the fungus is the cause of disease or an abnormal growth of a naturally occurring fungus resulting from infection with some other pathogen. Not all bats affected by the disease have white muzzles and the fungus often grows on the naked wing and tail membrane as well.
WNS primarily affects bats during hibernation. Infected bats prematurely awaken from hibernation, rapidly deplete their fat reserves, and are unable to survive the winter. Bats with WNS often exhibit unusual behavior such as flying during daylight hours or gathering outside of caves in cold weather.
To date over one million bats have died from WNS. Some bat colonies in the northeast US have experienced die-offs in excess of 90%. Entire populations and endangered species of bats are at risk. Scientists across the country are working vigorously to understand more about this disease.