12/31/2013 05:24 EST | Updated 03/02/2014 05:59 EST

Quebec Bats Being Decimated By Killer Fungus

Photo: Peter Paquet

A new fungal infection is killing Quebec’s bats at a fearsome rate and could lead to the disappearance of entire colonies and species in the province if its spread is not checked.

White-nose syndrome attacks bats as they hibernate and induces activity that wastes vital energy reserves needed to get them through the winter.

The disease gets its name from the white fungus identified as geomyces destructans that grows around the muzzles of infected bats.

First detected in Quebec three years ago, white-nose syndrome has now decimated bat colonies around the province and is estimated to have killed 5.7 million bats in eastern North America.

There is no known cure for the fungal infection.

“It’s one of the fastest declines for a species,” says Anouk Simard, a biologist with Quebec’s Environment Ministry. “In three years a very common species that we never worry about is now so low that it might disappear. It’s very serious.”

The decline is especially worrisome given the important role that bats play in the control of insect populations. One bat can eat up to one thousand insects a night.

Biologists believe the invasive fungus is not native to North America. It was first detected in a New York State cave frequented by tourists, leading to theories that it might have been accidentally imported.

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