bats

Pete Pattavina / U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

A fungus called white-nose syndrome has killed millions of cave-dwelling bats in the eastern U.S. and Canada and is now aggressively spreading across the South, including the karst-rich Ozarks and its abundant caves.

The irritating white, feathery fungus grows on the warm snouts and wings of hibernating bats, rousing them from winter torpor. Infected bats often flutter, disoriented, out of  protective caves where they may freeze or starve to death.

A federal task force which formed in 2011 to track and manage the epidemic is finally starting to see a glimmer of light at the end of a long tunnel.