Washington White Nose Bat Death Becomes First West Of Rockies

A disease that has decimated bat populations in the eastern U.S. has made a shocking jump to the West, putting the winged mammals in peril and threatening to drastically alter ecosystems in the region.

A little brown bat with white nose syndrome was found by hikers on a trail east of Seattle in mid-March, the first time the deadly fungus has been detected west of the Rockies. The immobilized bat was taken to an animal shelter, where it died two days later.

The discovery was announced Thursday by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Geological Survey.

David Blehert, branch chief of the USGS National Wildlife Health Center’s Wildlife Disease Diagnostic Laboratories, called it “surprising and unusual.”

“We’ve been dreading this,” Mollie Matteson, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Huffington Post.

Until March, the westernmost reach of the disease had been Nebraska, 1,300 miles from the site in North Bend, Washington. “This is a drastic jump,” Matteson said.

“This is the first time, to our knowledge, that there has been a long-range jump of the fungus,” Blehert said.

The disease, caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructan, can completely wipe out an entire bat colony. It has killed more than 6 million bats in the eastern U.S. The destruction it has wrought on bat populations has been described as the most precipitous decline of North American wildlife in the past century.

The fungus grows on the noses, wings and ears of affected bats, giving them a white, fuzzy appearance. The devastating disease spreads throughout bodily tissue, disrupting physiological processes, interrupting essential hibernation periods and causing bats to waste away.

Seven cave hibernating species of bats in 28 states and five Canadian provinces have been affected by white nose syndrome since it was first detected —> Read More