White nose syndrome causes a white fungus to form around the nose of infected bats. They lose the body fat needed to survive hibernation and ultimately starve to death. The disease is not a threat to humans, but has claimed over 7 million bats in the last six years.
The Bucks County bats were the latest victims of a disease that has been killing bat colonies across the Northeast at an alarming rate. Pennsylvania Game Commission Biologist Greg Turner says that 98 percent of Pennsylvania's cave-hibernating bats have died.
Federal scientists are currently in the process of determining if the six species of cave bats will be included in the endangered species list, said Turner.
“Going to places where there used to be tens of thousand bats hibernating, and then going in and seeing only a few bats — only a few stragglers left— that’s very difficult,” said Turner, who has been documenting the rapid decline of the state’s bat population and working with a team of scientists to research how it's spread and experiment with a variety of treatments.
Though scientists are still uncertain how the disease is spread, they hypothesize that cave explorers inadvertently picked up fungus spores on clothing and gear while exploring European caves, and then used the same, unwashed items to explore caves in the U.S.