Yukon biologist watching for signs of disease deadly to bats

A Yukon biologist is keeping watch for any signs of white-nose syndrome, as bats return to Yukon.

White-nose syndrome already wiping out colonies in eastern Canada

A brown bat found in New York, with white nose syndrome. Millions of bats in the United States and Canada have died in recent years, as a result of the fungus. (AP Photo/New York Department of Environmental Conservation, Ryan von Linden)

A Yukon biologist will be keeping a close eye on bat populations this summer, after researchers say a devastating fungal disease has moved west and has been found in Seattle. 

White-nose syndrome is already wiping out bat colonies in eastern Canada and the U.S. 

"[Bats] tend to move north-south in North America, between their hibernating sites and their summer range," said Brian Slough, a biologist who has been monitoring Yukon's bat population for 20 years.

"So, it is possible that our bats might mix with bats from that area [Seattle]."

White-nose syndrome gets its name from the white fungus that grows on bats' noses. The infection wakes bats during hibernation, causing them to burn energy and starve when they should be sleeping.

Slough says he'll be looking to see if the local bat population declines, which could be a sign of the disease.

"I'm not sure if you could actually detect it during the summer. But we will keep an eye out for the symptoms, which are generally white fungus on the nose — which is why it's called white-nose syndrome — or any other odd behaviour."   

Bats typically arrive in Yukon around this time of year, have babies throughout the summer, then leave in the fall.

Scientists are now trying to isolate the strain of white-nose fungus found on the west coast, to see if it's the same as in eastern North America, or possibly from bats in Asia.


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