The deadly white-nose disease has been detected in endangered gray bats, federal wildlife officials announced Tuesday, raising a very real possibility that the species could be wiped out within two years.
White-nose syndrome has killed millions of other species of bats as they hibernated in caves and mines in the northeastern United States, but the gray bat is even more susceptible, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.
Gray bats so far are the only infected species that live year-round in caves, giving the plague an opportunity to kill them more efficiently and in larger numbers, biologists said. Ninety percent of gray bats gather in nine caves in five states, in colonies as large as 1 million and no smaller than 200,000.
“They could potentially be wiped out in just a couple of years,” said Ann Froschauer, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s national communications leader on white-nose syndrome.
An estimated 6.7 million bats have died in 12 states and four Canadian provinces since white-nose syndrome was first detected at Howes Cave near Albany, N.Y., in 2006. The little brown bat and Indiana bats have suffered 90 percent declines in the Northeast.
Before white-nose was detected in the South for the first time in March, Fish and Wildlife officials had discussed removing the gray bats from the endangered list. The bats were listed in the 1970s, when human development encroached on their habitat, lowering their numbers.