White-nose syndrome, a disease spread by a soil fungus, G. destructans, and thought to have been carried to North America from Europe, is devastating bat colonies in the U.S. and Canada. First identified in 2006 in a population of common little brown bats in a cave 150 miles north of New York City, the malady has claimed 98 percent of the bat population there by causing them to awaken prematurely from their normal hibernation and then die from lack of food and exhaustion.
A single reproductive female little brown bat can eat her weight in insects each night. A recent Canadian study valued crops potentially lost to insects that would otherwise be devoured by bats at $53 billion a year. Without the bats to keep insect numbers down, farmers may turn to greater use of pesticides.