(ANIMAL NEWS) A disease that has killed millions of bats is now spreading across the United States. White nose syndrome, a disease only found in bats, is moving west and has now infected Missouri. Bats are an ecologically important species for pest control, and a huge loss in their population could affect farmer’s crops to the tune of $22 billion. Read on for the details on how a fungus has dramatically diminished bat populations. — Global Animal 
A little brown bat with white nose syndrome. Photo Credit: USFWS Headquarters via Flickr

The New York Times via Associated Press

A disease that has killed millions of bats across 16 states and Canada has been found in Missouri, marking its advent west of the Mississippi River and spelling possible trouble for agriculture in the region, officials said Monday. The disease, white nose syndrome has, been confirmed in three bats in two caves in Lincoln County, north of St. Louis, the Missouri Department of Conservation said. The name describes a white fungus found on the faces and wings of infected bats and has not been found to infect humans or other animals. It had been found only as far west as Kentucky until the Missouri discovery. Ann Froschauer of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service said the spread of the disease could affect crops because bats subsist at least in part on crop pests. She said a recent study estimated that bats provide about $22 billion a year in “ecological services” in part because of all the pests they consume. The Missouri Department of Conservation estimated Missouri’s gray bats alone eat about 540 tons of insects each year.

More New York Times: www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/us/missouri-bat-disease-moves-west.html