First noticed in 2006 in an Albany, N.Y., cave, the fungus may cause hibernating bats to wake up early and then too quickly use their fat reserves before insects are out, said Barbara French, science officer with Bat Conservation International.
The Oklahoma bats considered most at risk are the gray bat and the Indiana bat. Many hibernate in private caves in eastern Oklahoma where gates provided by the federal and state wildlife departments protect the bats while allowing them access to the caves, Hickman said.
But about two-thirds of the state’s bats don’t hang around in caves, where researchers suspect the cold-loving fungus is a greater threat. The state’s common eastern red bats, for example, hang in trees and look like dead leaves.
Why care about bats?
As these critters go, so go their voracious appetites for mosquitoes.
State wildlife officials say Oklahoma’s 1 million migratory Mexican free-tailed bats eat 10 tons of mosquitoes and other insects every night.
"If we lose our bat populations, we are likely to see a serious increase in insects,” French said. "It’s a bad thing to lose.”
Tuttle said one of the most abundant bats, the little brown bat, could be wiped out if the disease isn’t stopped.
"We have never seen anything before that has killed off bats like this,” he said. "It’s not unthinkable we could be facing extinction of some species.”