New Brunswick researchers are examining bats to see if a potentially lethal disease known as white-nose syndrome has moved into the province. (CBC)

A New Brunswick researcher is worried that a fungus that is potentially lethal to bat colonies could show up soon in the province.

Karen Vanderwolf, a University of New Brunswick master's student, is examining New Brunswick bats for a fungus that causes white-nose syndrome.

It first appeared in a cave near Albany, New York, in 2006 and in the four years since, more than a million bats have died. The syndrome has spread across nine states in the northeastern U.S. and has wiped out from 75 to 98 per cent of the over-wintering bat population.

This winter, the fungus spread into Ontario and Quebec. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources reported in March that the first cases of white-nose syndrome had been found in the Bancroft-Minden area in eastern Ontario.

The geographic trend of the disease's spread means researchers believe it will soon come to New Brunswick and the rest of the Maritimes.

Fungus spores can be found on the bats before the disease becomes full-blown. Vanderwolf is on the hunt for those spores that are a pre-cursor to the disease.

But, she said, she hasn't spotted any on New Brunswick bats yet.

Swabbed sleeping bats

"We visited 10 caves in the winter and we swabbed the bats with big sterile Q-Tips," she said.

Vanderwolf has identified more than 60 types of fungus spores from those samples, but she still has not found the one that causes white-nose syndrome.

Scientists aren't clear on what causes white-nose syndrome, which gets its name from the smudges of white fungus that appear around the nose, mouth and wings of the affected bats.

Some researchers think the fungus acts as an irritant, causing the bat to awaken from its hibernation period early and often, which leads the bats to burn through their energy reserve and starve to death.

If the disease spreads into New Brunswick, it could have a devastating impact on the bat population — and eventually lead to a soaring mosquito population. Bats consume their body weight in mosquitoes each night.

The fungus scare has also spread into western Canada.

In May, the Alberta government temporarily closed the Cadomin Cave in the Whitehorse Wildland provincial park to control the spread of a mysterious fungus that's killing bats.