published Friday, January 24th, 2014

Bats with white nose syndrome found in western Missouri

In a Dec. 16, 2011 photograph, a little brown bat is swabbed during a white nose syndrome study at New Mammoth Cave near LaFollette, Tenn. (AP Photo/Amy Smotherman Burgess, Knoxville News Sentinel)
In a Dec. 16, 2011 photograph, a little brown bat is swabbed during a white nose syndrome study at New Mammoth Cave near LaFollette, Tenn. (AP Photo/Amy Smotherman Burgess, Knoxville News Sentinel)
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A fungus that has killed millions of bats around the eastern U.S. and Canada has landed in western Missouri.

Tony Elliott, a bat specialist for the Missouri Conservation Department, said three tri-colored bats with white nose syndrome were recently found in an old limestone quarry in Jackson County, The Kansas City Star reported. Animals with the disease were found last winter in east-central Missouri, and before that it was found in the cave colonies of Pike County near the Mississippi River.

Officials didn't identify the site of the latest find in the hopes of preventing the curious from visiting the site and possibly spreading the fungus. Another common bat species, the big brown, is also found in the site, but those bats didn't show any signs of infection.

Elliott said the fungus has been documented in a dozen counties; in about half of those, the disease has shown up as well. But there haven't been any confirmed bat deaths attributed to the disease in Missouri, Elliot said.

"We're not sure what that means at this point," he said.

White-nose syndrome does not infect people, pets or livestock but is estimated to have killed more than 5 million cave-dwelling bats nationwide since it first was detected in New York in 2006. The syndrome is caused by a fungus and spreads largely among bats and by human clothing and equipment in caves.

The syndrome affects the skin of the muzzle, ears and wings of infected bats that appear confused. The afflicted bats move toward the colder mouths of caves and fly in daytime during winter, which exhausts their fat reserves and leads to freezing or starvation.

In Missouri, officials have posted signs about the fungal locations to warn spelunkers and advise people about decontaminating clothing between cave visits.

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