Scientist Superheroes Fight Killer Fungus

Scientist Superheroes Fight Killer Fungus

Good news for North American bats!

This little brown bat has white mold on his muzzle, ears, and wings.
This little brown bat has white mold on his muzzle, ears, and wings.
Photograph by Stephen Alvarez, Nat Geo Image Collection

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Published July 20, 2015

Somebody get Batman—bats are in trouble! All over North America, the flying mammals are under attack from a deadly disease. And bad news for these creatures means trouble for people too.

Bats are very helpful to humans. Some species eat up pesky insects such as mosquitoes. Other species act as pollinators and seed dispersers, helping forests that have been cleared or damaged to regrow.

Unfortunately the bats of North America are in danger.

A deadly disease called white-nose syndrome has killed some seven million of them since 2006, and it continues to spread today.


The disease is named for the white fungus, or mold, that infects the skin on the nose, ears, and wings of hibernating bats. The fungus destroys the animals’ tissue. And as they try to fight off the disease, bats wake up from hibernation and end up using more energy than they should, leading to exhaustion and starvation. 


Luckily some scientists are swooping into action to help save bats. These experts have developed a treatment using bacteria that’s known to slow the ripening of fruits and vegetables. It does this by stemming the release of gases from fruits and vegetables that tell them to start ripening.

Biologist Chris Cornelison first tested the bacteria against the fungus.  

He figured if the bacteria could prevent molds growing on bananas, it might be able to stop a mold growing on a bat.

And the treatment seems to be working. Bats with white-nose syndrome were captured from Missouri and Kentucky, sedated, and exposed to the bacteria.   

Scientists then closely monitored the animals. This spring, 15 bats were declared healthy enough to be released back into the wild.

Scientists will continue testing the bacteria to make sure it won’t harm the bats or the cave ecosystem in which they hibernate.

But scientists are hopeful that the treatment will protect bats throughout North America. So never mind calling Batman—thanks to some real-life superheroes, bats have a fighting chance.

Text from "Killer Fungus That's Devastating Bats May Have Met Its Match" by Jane J. Lee, NGS Staff

Adapted by Allyson Shaw, NGS Staff