Bats are fascinating and often-misunderstood creatures. They’re also very useful to humans and ecosystems; in our region, by eating a lot of night-flying insects that damage crops and forests. To learn more about bats and how they’ve been unfairly targeted for abuse over the years, read the book “The Secret Lives of Bats: My Adventures with the World's Most Misunderstood Mammals” by Merlin Tuttle. It’s highly readable, entertaining, and downright gripping.
Here in western Canada, bats are facing a deadly threat. Researchers are asking the public to help.
White-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease responsible for the death of millions of bats in eastern North America, is spreading on the west coast.
Confirmed to the west and east of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State, just 150 km south of the BC-US border, the presence of the fungus is very worrisome for the health of our bat populations. The disease has near 100% mortality for some species of bats exposed to the fungus, including the familiar Little Brown Myotis. Although devastating for bats, WNS does not affect humans.
Tracking the spread of the disease relies on public assistance. “Detection of WNS in BC is challenging because our bats appear to hibernate in small groups across the province” says Leigh Anne Isaac, coordinating biologist with the Kootenay Community Bat Project (KCBP). “To monitor the spread of the disease, we need more eyes on the ground. Outdoor enthusiasts and homeowners with roosts on their property may be the first to find evidence of trouble.”
Signs of the disease include unusual bat activity in winter and the appearance of dead bats outdoors as they succumb to the effects of WNS. “We are encouraging the public to report dead bats or any sightings of winter bat activity to the KCBP toll-free phone number, website, or email below. Bat carcasses will be submitted for testing for white-nose syndrome and would provide the earliest indication of the presence of the disease in BC” says Isaac. Reports of winter bat activity will help focus research, monitoring and protection efforts.
While bats are generally hibernating out of sight this time of year, not every winter bat sighting signals disaster. Bats often hibernate by themselves in a woodpile or basement entryway. If possible, these sleeping bats should be left alone – keep your distance, snap a photo, and report to the KCBP. If you must move a bat, visit www.bcbats.ca for advice. Remember to never touch a bat with your bare hands.
Bat are also occasionally spotted flying on relatively warm winter days or evenings. Healthy bats may wake up to drink or even eat, if insects are active. Enjoy these sightings, and remember to let us know when and where winter bat activity was observed and weather conditions during that time.
If you find a dead bat, report it to the KCBP (www.bcbats.ca, firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-855-922-2287 (ext. 14) as soon as possible for further information. Never touch a dead bat with your bare hands. Please note that if you or your pet has been in direct contact with the bat you will need further information regarding the risk of rabies to you and your pet.
Currently there are no treatments for White-nose syndrome. However, mitigating other threats to bat populations and preserving and restoring bat habitat may provide bat populations with the resilience to rebound. This is where the KCBP and the general public can help. Funded by the Columbia Basin Trust, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Forest Enhancement Society of BC, the Province of BC, the Habitat Stewardship Program, and the Regional District of the East and Central Kootenays (via their respective local conservation funds), the KCBP works with the Kootenay residents and local governments on public outreach activities, public reports of roosting bats in buildings, the Annual BC Bat Count, and developing bat-friendly communities.