Mystery Cave bats deemed healthy despite fungus epidemic - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Mystery Cave bats deemed healthy despite fungus epidemic

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PRESTON, Minn. (KTTC) -- A dangerous syndrome creeping westward across America is killing millions of bats in its path. Back in August, a debilitating fungus called White Nose Syndrome was detected at two parks in Minnesota. But tests from last month reveal the bats at Mystery Cave State Park are healthy; at least for now. 

"The bats are really an important part of our interpretation here," said Warren Netherton from the Department of Natural Resources.

2,000 bats call the 13 miles of cave home. But that population was in danger when bats there tested positive for White Nose Syndrome just before winter hibernation.

"There was an indication that the fungus was on a couple bats from 2013," said Netherton. Luckily, spring tests for the fungus came back negative; a clean bill of health for Southeast Minnesota bats. "Hurrah!" exclaimed Netherton. "It was great news. We were really happy to hear that."
But not all parks have been so lucky. Some have lost 90 to 100 percent of their bat populations. Netherton said that if the bat population at Mystery Cave were to collapse to 10 percent of where it started, it would take 100 to 200 years to get back to where it is today.

Keeping these bats healthy is critical to Minnesota's environment.

"Losing this population from White Nose Syndrome means that just in the month of July, a half of a ton more of insects flying around that normally would have been eaten," explained Netherton.
Checking for the disease is the easy part.

"What we want to look for is to see if there's any white around the muzzle," said Netherton.

The challenge is keeping the fungus at bay.

White Nose Syndrome began in New York and has crept westward, killing six million bats in its path.

"These all look like great bats here, so that's good news," he said. Netherton adds that while these bats are healthy now, they may not be for very long. "Based on what has happened at other caves and mines throughout the country, across the eastern US, it's just a matter of time before the disease is going to nail us here."
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