ST. GEORGE — The creeping spread of an international disease has occupied the public conscience for almost a year and a half. Ironically, the very animal that may have triggered the global pandemic is facing an epidemic of its own here in the United States.
On Thursday night, biologists with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources traveled to Mammoth Cave to test bats for white-nose syndrome: a fungal disease that has been making its way across the United States since it was first documented in New York in 2006.
Keith Day, a biologist who manages non-game birds and mammals for the Southern Region Office, led a team of researchers in setting up nets, catching bats and gathering samples to test for the disease.
"Right now the biggest threats they're facing are extreme drought here in the West and also white nose syndrome," Day said. "White nose syndrome is caused by a fungus, and this fungus is extremely cold tolerant."
The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, can grow on the bats and on surfaces in the cave itself. It's ability to spread in the winter particularly harms bats when they're at their weakest.
"When the bats are hibernating, they're not cleaning themselves off," Day said. "The bats will wake up in order to fight it off. They're losing energy. They're losing body reserves and ultimately its dehydration that ends up killing them."