Updated at 4:10 p.m. to include quotes from IDNR and 4:23 p.m. to include map.
Officials in Illinois have found the first cases of a devastating bat disease known as white-nose syndrome in that state.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources says laboratory tests confirmed the fungal disease in two species of bat in four counties. Those include Monroe County in the Metro East, LaSalle County in north-central Illinois, and Hardin and Pope Counties in the southern part of the state.
Here's a documentary on the disease produced in 2009. (Video partially sponsored by the US Forest Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service):
IDNR endangered species manager Joe Kath says bats play an important role in the environment — and in our economy.
"It is estimated that bats likely save the U.S. agricultural industry between two to four billion dollars a year, because of the pest control services they provide by simply eating insects that predate upon agricultural crops," Kath says.
The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome thrives in cold, damp environments, like the caves where bats hibernate.
It passes from bat to bat, but Kath says people can also spread the fungus.
“People can enter caves where the Geomyces destructans fungus is present,” Kath says. “People can inadvertently pick up these microscopic spores on their boots or on their clothing or whatnot, and spread the fungus that way.”
White-nose syndrome is usually fatal to bats, and as of now, there is no known cure. It does not affect people or other animals.
Nationwide, the disease is estimated to have killed more than 5.5 million bats, most in the eastern U.S. It affects seven different species, including two that are endangered: the Indiana bat, and the gray bat.
The disease was first confirmed in Missouri in April of last year.
You can find out more about white nose syndrome at this site curated by several partners, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.