CHATTANOOGA, TENN. -- Bats... These nocturnal creatures pack a big punch when it comes to keeping pest populations at bay.
Now, local bats face a disease that biologist, Dr. Tim Gaudin, says has wiped out some bat colonies across the country: White Nose Syndrome.
Dr. Gaudin says the white fungus grows on bats' wings and faces.
White nose isn't harmful to humans, but is devastating to bats.
And Gaudin says fewer bats could mean more diseases to humans because of increased insect populations. "It wakes them up repeatedly during hibernation and they lose these fat reserves. Some of them will actually leave the caves and go out and try to feed but there's nothing for them to eat so they come back and start hibernating again but they just don't have enough reserves to make it through the winter," Gaudin says.
"For example, West Nile Virus has been a problem locally and you know the bats are one of the natural mechanisms for keeping that under control because they eat the mosquitoes that pass along that disease," Gaudin says.
Conservation Officer Maureen Handler says some species of bats that inhabit some of the areas around the Chickamauga Military Park and in parts of Dade County have been found to have the disease.
And several local species are already endangered.
Handler says "It's a big concern that when you have a population crash in an endangered species that there may not be enough of a viable population left to continue species."
Chattanooga Grotto President, Marty Abercrombie, says a decreased bat population would be a huge loss for cavers, too.
Abercrombie says "They're part of the ecosystem, they're part of the environment when you go caving. It would be a real shame not to see them."
Abercrombie says cavers should use precaution to make sure they continue to protect bats' fragile environments.
Again, for bat safety.. avoid going anywhere near their habitats.