CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., May 29 (UPI) -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has confirmed the presence of white-nose syndrome in federally listed endangered gray bats in two counties in Tennessee.
White-nose syndrome -- a fungal disease first documented in New York in 2006 and now found in 19 states and four Canadian provinces -- has decimated bat populations across eastern North America, with mortality rates reaching up to 100 percent at some sites, officials said.
The Tennessee discovery is the first confirmation of WNS in federally listed gray bats, TheChattanoogan.com reported Tuesday.
The discovery is a cause of concern for the species, officials said.
"The news that another federally endangered bat species, the gray bat, has been confirmed with white-nose syndrome is devastating for anyone who cares about bats and the benefits they provide to people," Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said. "Bats provide tremendous value to the U.S. economy as natural pest control for American farms and forests every year. Research and management of this disease remains a priority for the Service, and we will continue to work closely with our partners to understand the spread of this deadly disease and minimize its impacts to affected bat species."
Infected gray bats were discovered during two separate winter surveillance trips in Hawkins and Montgomery counties, officials said.
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