Bats may be the stuff of nightmares, but they are facing a nightmare of their own. A mysterious disease is wiping out bats in caves in the northeast United States, and experts say it could reach Oklahoma.
"It’s not safe to say that any of our bats are safe at this point,” said Merlin Tuttle, founder and president of Bat Conservation International in Austin, Texas.
"This is by far the most devastating threat that’s ever been seen to bats in our history.”
The worst-case scenario is that white-nose syndrome could be here in less than two years, Tuttle said. It certainly will reach the state in several years unless scientists stop it, he said.
"It would be really irresponsible to not be watching for it, but we don’t need to panic,” said Mike Caywood, park manager at Alabaster Caverns State Park near Freedom in northwest Oklahoma.
The caverns are the winter home to nearly 14,000 bats, he said.
Millions of bats live in Oklahoma locations such as the Selman bat cave near Woodward, where bat watches begin each July, said Melynda Hickman, wildlife biologist with the state Wildlife Conservation Department.
The disease has killed more than 1 million bats in the Northeast, according to researchers’ estimates.
"We don’t have any way to account for the way bats are dying,” Tuttle said.
"We’re finding thousands and thousands of dead and dying bats on the cave floors.”
A white fungus on bats’ noses may be the cause of deaths or a symptom of whatever is causing deaths, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says.