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Bat-killing disease found in N.C. preserve

White-nose syndrome, which has decimated bat populations across the eastern United States, has been confirmed in a bat found in Rutherford County.

The Nature Conservancy said the affected bat was found last month in its Bat Cave Preserve. The Conservancy closed the caves at the preserve to the public in 2010 in an effort to protect the bats.

First identified six years ago in New York state, white-nose syndrome has spread to 19 states and four Canadian provinces. Bat populations have declined by an estimated 80 percent in affected areas. Infected bats have also been found in North Carolina’s Avery, McDowell, Haywood, Yancey and Transylvania counties.

Biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and the Nature Conservancy found the infected bat, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed the disease.

The disease gets its name from a white fungus found around the muzzles, ears and wing membranes of infected bats. The bats behave oddly, such as flying when they should be hibernating, using up fat that gets them through the winter.

It’s likely that the six species affected in North Carolina will be “dramatically affected,” the Nature Conservancy said, because the long-lived bats typically give birth to a single pup each year.

Henderson: 704-358-5051 Twitter: @bhender
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