LYMAN, N.H. (AP) – A lethal disease that has decimated bat populations in other states has reached New Hampshire.

A team of biologists has found evidence of White Nose Syndrome on hibernating bats in Grafton County. A Franklin Pierce University biologist and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official were in a cave in Lyman this month when they found two bats covered in the white fungus that characterizes the syndrome.

“I turned around and walked 10 feet and saw two bats that were pretty much covered with fungal growth on their wings and faces,” said biologist Jacques Veilleux.

The team sent samples of the white growth to a lab for analysis but is fairly confident that the syndrome has reached the state, he said.

“It does not take much for this syndrome to spread if we have the fungal spores in our caves,” He said.

The syndrome first appeared in New York two winters ago, and has killed an estimated 400,000 bats – about 75 percent of the bat population in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. It showed up this winter in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

New Hampshire has about 4,500 bats from eight species hibernating in caves and mine shafts.

State biologist Emily Brunkhurst said infected bats are not surviving the winter on insects stored up in the fall. Some have flown out of caves in midwinter to search for food and froze.

Bats hold a vital ecological role as a pollinator of flowers and major predator of insects, some eating up to 2,000 insects per hour.

“You are going to notice differences in insect populations, more moths and beetles,” said Susi von Ottingen of the Fish and Wildlife Service. “I am not even sure what it’s going to do – that’s a lot of animals to remove so quickly.”

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