White-nose syndrome threatens bats in eastern Iowa - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

White-nose syndrome threatens bats in eastern Iowa

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JACKSON COUNTY (KWWL) -

White-nose syndrome, a fungus that affects bats, has been confirmed here in Iowa -- the 26th state to get it.

White-nose syndrome actually closed down the Maquoketa Caves State Park in 2010 and 2011.

It hasn't been found in Jackson County this year, but it's getting close.

So far, white-nose syndrome has been found in Des Moines and Van Buren counties.

It's also been confirmed in Grant County, Wisconsin -- just across the river from Dubuque.

White-nose syndrome was first documented in 2006 in New York, and has since killed nearly 6 million bats.

It's a fungus that primarily grows near their nose, hence the name.

It wakes up hibernating bats, putting their lives at severe risk.

"It burns up most of the calories it has to survive hibernation, so it ultimately starves to death," said Scott Dykstra, Maquoketa Caves Park Ranger. "Or, it'll try to fly out during the wintertime trying to find food, and it'll freeze to death."

White-nose syndrome caused this park to close in 2010 and 2011, but hasn't been found here since.

Before people are allowed into the caves here, they must first go through an educational program about the disease -- all in an effort to prevent it from spreading.

And whether you like them or not, bats are nice to have around.

They can eat thousands of bugs every night, saving you from the bite of a mosquito, and helping out farmers, too.

"The bats alone (are) estimated to save the United States an estimated $3.4 billion in their ability to eat the bugs that the farmers don't want or the fruit growers don't want in the crops," Dykstra said.

He said the best way to prevent the spreading of this disease is to decontaminate the clothes you wear before going to a different cave system.

As for the types of bats affected, two that reside in Iowa -- the little brown bat and the northern long-eared bat -- have both been affected by white-nose syndrome.

In fact, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services named the northern long-eared bat threatened under the Endangered Species Act, thanks mostly to the disease.

As of right now, there is no known cure for white-nose syndrome.

But researchers at the University of California-Santa Cruz are testing a bacteria naturally found on bats that may combat the deadly disease.

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