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Biologists find disease-causing fungus on New Mexico bats

White-nose syndrome can damage bat wing tissue. Bats caught in summer may have scars or holes in the wings -- evidence that the bat may have survived exposure to WNS. (The Associated Press file)

ROSWELL, N.M. — Federal land managers have confirmed that a disease-causing fungus has been found on hibernating bats in two eastern New Mexico caves.

The Bureau of Land Management reported this week that the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome also was found on the walls of the caves during routine surveillance conducted last month in De Baca and Lincoln counties.

A team of biologists observed a white powdery growth consistent with the fungus on numerous bats in the caves. Laboratory testing confirmed their suspicions.

White-nose syndrome has been confirmed in 36 states, including neighboring Texas and Oklahoma, and several Canadian provinces.

Officials said any new sign of its spread is worrisome because bats are vital for healthy ecosystems.

Although bats themselves are the primary way the fungus spreads, possible spread by human activity in caves is a concern. Officials advised people to stay out of closed caves and mines and to decontaminate footwear and all cave gear before and after visiting or touring caves and other places where bats live.