MADISON (WKOW) -- A fungal disease that has killed millions of North American bats is spreading and has now been detected in Wisconsin.
Officials in Michigan and Wisconsin revealed Thursday they've confirmed bats in their states have been diagnosed with white-nose syndrome, which first showed up in the U.S. in upstate New York in 2006 and has now been confirmed in half of U.S. states.
"We have huge implications, between Wisconsin and Michigan, we're talking about the largest, hibernating populations of bats in the Midwest," Conservation biologist Paul White of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources tell 27 News.
The disease is named for the white fuzz it creates on the animals' noses, wings and tails. The condition causes hibernating bats to wake frequently, which saps their energy reserves and can cause them to starve or dehydrate before spring arrives.
In some caves where the disease has been spotted, more than 90 percent of bats have died. DNR officials say the disease was found in an old mine site in Grant County.
Bats are valuable species because they eat insects that otherwise would damage crops and trees.
White says if Wisconsin's four affected bat species have the same mortality rates as those in other states with the white-nose syndrome, their absence has been estimated to have the potential to cost agriculture $600 million annually.
Ken Bowman of Sun Prairie is licensed by the DNR to rehabilitate wounded bats. Bowman tells 27 News he's been warned in the past confirmation of the disease could end his rehabilitation work, over the risk wounded animals would be carriers and spread the syndrome.
White says DNR officials have anticipated a confirmation of the disease in the state, and have planned preventative steps. White says they include having people who've visited caves and other bat habitats where white-nose syndrome exists, remove shoes and refrain from using equipment and clothes from those visits, when viewing bats in Wisconsin locations.
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