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In Once Thriving Pa. Bat Colony, 23 out of 10,000 Remain

Update Date: Apr 01, 2013 10:09 AM EDT

Scientists in Pensylvania have confirmed that the second-largest bat colony in the state has been decimated by white-nose syndrome. A recent trek to the abandoned iron ore that the bats call home has revealed that, of the 10,000 bats who used to live there, only 23 bats are alive. Half of those bats also show signs of the devastating illness.

According to, Pennsylvania Game Commissioner Greg Turner visited the mine for the first time in two years and found just 23 bats in a colony that used to have 10,000. Half of those bats exhibited telltale signs of the disease though, with fungus on their muzzles, crowding the entrance and flying out of the cave during the daytime.

Because scientists fear spreading the fungus further, they will not visit the colony for another two years. By that time, scientists believe that there will only be a handful of bats left.

According to Go Lackawanna, there is still a slight hope for the bats. There are still 1,000 to 2,000 little brown bats in the region. If the juveniles can make it through the winter without becoming infected, there remains hope for the species.

Regardless, scientists hope that six species of bats in the Northeastern United States can be classified as endangered species.

In 2011, investigators found the first traces of the illness in the colony, noting that it was too late to save them. In 2011, there was only 180 bats left.

According to UPI, white nose syndrome is a disorder that causes a fungus to grow on the noses of bats. When the illness takes hold, the bats lose the body fat needed to preserve function and ultimately starve themselves to death during the winter months. The bats' behavior also changes in some peculiar ways. While the disease poses no immediate threats to humans, it has killed some 7 million bats in North America.

Some bat colonies have been left quite intact. However, in order to do so, the bats have needed to modify their habits to become more solitary - or have been solitary in the first place. The bats that huddle together en masse are most likely to have been destroyed by the illness.

Scientists are not sure how the illness spread. The predominant theory is that researchers picked up the fungus while examining bats in Europe and, without washing the garments, spread the illness to bats in North America.

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