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Colorado wildlife officials are warning that a devastating disease caused by a common fungus has now struck bats in the state and threatens to spread. (Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

The first Colorado bat infected with white-nose syndrome was found near La Junta, state wildlife officials announced, raising fears of a disastrous spread of the fungus-caused disease wreaking havoc in an important species across dozens of states. 

Colorado officials have found the widespread bat-killing fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, known as Pd, in the state before, but they had never confirmed a bat infected with the disease the fungus causes

“The impact of the disease in Colorado could be devastating,” a state Parks and Wildlife release said. “Of the 19 bat species native to Colorado, at least 13 may be susceptible to this disease. Any large-scale loss of bats would spell trouble for the health of Colorado’s ecosystems and economy, given estimates that these voracious insect eaters contribute $3 billion annually to the U.S. agricultural economy through pest control.”

State officials said the fungus does not threaten people or pets, and the bats themselves are usually the way the fungus spreads among the species. They do warn that humans can spread the fungus on their clothing, and to avoid closed caves and mines, or any animals that appear diseased. They advise never touching bats. 

Colorado wildlife officials frequently close off bat caves near recreation trails in order to stop the spread of the fungus. 

The infected bat was found March 29 by National Park Service staff at Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site in Otero County. The bat couldn’t fly, and had the white powdery appearance on its arms that distinguish the fungus. The bat was killed and sent to a U.S. Geological Survey wildlife center for testing. It was a female Yuma bat

Federal researchers captured 25 Yuma bats last summer at Bent’s Old Fort and found the fungus. But none of the bats had the disease, white-nose syndrome. The disease hits hibernating bats the hardest, and kills them in the hibernating caves or soon after they emerge in the spring. Sites in Baca, Larimer and Routt counties also had the fungus last year. 

“After the discovery of Pd last year, we expected this news was inevitable in a year or two, given the experience in other states as white-nose syndrome has spread westward,” said Tina Jackson, parks and wildlife species conservation coordinator. “We’ve been monitoring for the fungus for a number of years and this is the same pattern seen in other states.”

“We are working with our partners to monitor these and other bat colonies,” Jackson added. 

Many scientists worldwide are trying to identify treatments and vaccines for white-nose syndrome, the state release said. The disease was first found in New York in 2006, and has since been tested in 12 North American bat species. Colorado makes 39 states and seven Canadian provinces with the disease. 

The state asks people who see a dead or apparently sick bat to contact parks and wildlife at The state also has a website with more information about the disease.

Michael Booth

Michael Booth is a Colorado Sun reporter covering health, health policy and the environment. Email: Twitter: @MBoothDenver