Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.COM)
More than 5.7 million bats have died from disease in the U.S. since the year 2007.
The attack on millions of bats is due to a fungal disease called white nose syndrome.
"It effects the soft tissues of the bat, the wing the tail membrane, ears and muzzle, and basically pervades the tissues and grows into the body of the bats while they're in hibernation," says Jeremy Coleman of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Effected bats tend to wake from hibernation months early.
Experts hypothesize that the deaths are not necessarily caused by the disease but are the result of the premature awakening.
"When a bat wakes up from hibernation it's using up a lot of it's fat reserve...Unfortunately during the winter time, insects which is what the bats here eat aren't around," says James Pointer, of the Soudan Underground Mine.
Many bats die from exposure to the elements while searching food.
Another proposed explanation for death is dehydration.
"The fungus as it invades the wing membranes, likely causes the bats to dehydrate," adds Coleman.
In response, US Fish and Wildlife Services has awarded several Midwestern states approximately $230,000 in grant money to help combat the problem. Over $950,000 was awarded to 28 states in total.
The female little brown, which is the most common back in this region, bat only gives birth to one pup per year. The effects are devastating... on the bat population and the environment.
"They eat a lot of the harmful insects that might be destroying crops, for people they get rid of the mosquitoes which is also a good thing...a lot of the fruits that we eat are due to pollinating in bats," says Pointer.
According to White–Nose Syndrome.org, bats provide $3 billion worth of pest control services in the US per year.
In some areas, the mortality rate for infected little brown bats is 99%.
Northern Minnesota bats have not yet been affected by the disease.
Soudan mine officials would like to stress that the bats are housed in a separate part of the mine than where tours are given.