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What's Killing The Bats?

Tens of thousands of bats in the Northeast have died off this year as a result of a mysterious killer dubbed "white nose syndrome."

Rob Mies, director of the Organization of Bat Conservation appeared on The Early Show to discuss the problem.

Asked to explain what researchers are finding with these bats and what white nose syndrome is, Mies said, "Explaining what it is is a little difficult at this point. One of the main things that we do know is that it's affecting bats during the wintertime. So when bats are hibernating in caves and mines, we're seeing tens of thousands of bats, unfortunately, in the New England area, dying. One of the main things is that these bats are so crucial because they're voracious eaters of insects. They eat tons of beetles and moths especially."

"One of the most common species that's being affected is called the little brown bat. Also, there's an endangered species as well that's called the Indiana bat that's also been unfortunately dying in the caves. So what it is is that they've got a fungus that's growing on their nose or ears or wings, but not all the bats do," Mies told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith.

Speaking about the white fungal growth found around the nostrils of affected bats, Mies said, "What's really interesting is that actually not all the bats have that either. And so the bats have been collected - there's been lots of them that have died. They've been sent all over the country to laboratories, and what we've been able to tell so far is that's not the cause of death. That's most likely a symptom. The cause of death is probably really complicated, but basically they're starving to death."

Do researchers have a handle on what the root problem is?

"Well, the root problem is probably more complex, similar to the massive die-offs of bees, honey bees in North America. Probably there's a good chance that it's caused by pesticides. Since 1999, when the West Nile Virus came to the United States, non-agricultural pesticide use has skyrocketed. We call it 'bioaccumulation.' So the bats could be building up this pesticide in their bodies. Another thing could be global warming. And bats could be confused by the winter coming on late," Mies told Smith.

"More times the warm temperatures in the winter, they go out to look for insects and stuff, and there's nothing out there," Smith remarked.

"There's nothing out there for them," Mies agreed.