MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say a toxic fungus impacting bats has made its way to Fern Cave in Jackson County.
The fungus - known as white-nose syndrome - has already affected bats in Georgia and Tennessee. Officials Monday announced Alabama's first case of the disease in the cave at the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge. The deadly disease has reached the home of the world's largest wintering colony of bats.
Officials say the latest cases are "extremely alarming and could be catastrophic." Bats contract the illness from other bats and humans are not at risk. The epidemic has killed nearly 7 million bats in 22 eastern states and five Canadian provinces since 2006.
Researchers have estimated the economic value of bug-eating bats to agriculture at $22 billion or more.