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Fungus harmful to bats found in 2 Minn. parks

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A fungus that causes a deadly disease in bats has been detected for the first time in Minnesota.

The fungus causing white-nose syndrome was found in cave at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park in southeast Minnesota and in a mine at Soudan Underground Mine State Park in northeast Minnesota.

The two sites are among the state's largest hibernating spots for the animals and home to thousands of bats, the Duluth News Tribune reported.

The disease hasn't been detected in Minnesota bats, the Star Tribune reports. However, four bats tested positive for the fungus, which could be an early signal of disease.

The disease devastated colonies on the east coast and has killed more than 5.7 million bats in North America, the Star Tribune reports.

The Duluth newspaper said Vermont's Aeolus Cave housed an estimated 400,000 little brown myotis bats before the disease struck. Two years later researchers found only 36 bats alive.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service describes the disease as the "worst wildlife health crisis in memory."

Bats are important to the ecosystem because they pollinate crops and other plants, and also control the mosquito population.

Minnesota has seven species of bats, four of which hibernate during the winter, which makes them more likely to contract the disease.

The disease isn't known to pose a threat to humans, pets, livestock or other wildlife, the Associated Press reports.

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