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Where Have All The Bats Gone?

As a child I would sit in my backyard on a warm summer night and stare at the sky until night time came. I was eager to know how many bats called my back yard their home. Right before dusk you would see them flying around eating all the mosquitoes they could to satisfy their bellies. This past summer as I watched day turn to night, I was alarmed by the lack of bats in my back yard. I would be lucky if I saw two in one night and this could have been the same one twice for all I know, and I found myself asking where have all the bats gone?

I was discouraged to find that large populations across the United States have been plagued by White-nose Syndrome (WNS). What is this disease and why is it causing mass declines of bat populations? The fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or Pd for short is pictured below as seen from an electron microscope. This white fungus has caused rapid declines since 2006 and to the human eye it may just look like white fuzz on the bat or could not be visible at all to effected species. This fungus makes the bats more active than usual which burns up fats they need to survive the winter and make them have unusual behaviors such as flying during the day time. WNS has not been found to affect any other animal and humans cannot get this fungus. Little is known about this fungus only first being identified in 2008 but as of now there is no way to stop this from spreading or a cure for species affected.  

Nine bats call Massachusetts home but there are three species most effected by WNS which include the Northern-long Eared bat, Little Brown Bat and the Tri-colored bat (pictured). With all the negative statistics I read I was pleased to find out that local efforts are being made thanks to the Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance. This non-profit located on Long Pond Road in Plymouth has developed a program called SEMPBAT, to monitor bats hoping to gain insight on what bats we currently have and what habitat a variety of species are being found in. Information about local bat populations can help landowners and managers makes decisions for habitat restoration initiatives and other conservation projects. If you have bats and want to get your property monitored, please contact Sharl Heller at pine@pinebarrensalliance.org to get on a wait list for next year’s monitoring activities.

 

Fortunately, you don’t need to a be a scientist or have special equipment to help bats against this disease. Below is a list of things you can do to help your local bat population.

1. Build a bat house! 

  • What better way to help then providing a safe home for this species. Several guides are available online to build your own or you can purchase one at your local Home Depot, Lowes and even online at Amazon

2. Gain some knowledge!

  • If you learn about bats, you can share your knowledge with others. They are complex creatures and important to the ecosystem. Impress your friends with your knowledge on bats near you. Attend educational programs or events related to bats.

3. Get involved!

  • Join community efforts such as the SEMPBAT program or state-wide counts for bats. Contact the local natural resource agency to see how you can volunteer your time.

 

 

Sources

  1.  https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/static-page/the-fungus
  2. https://www.mass.gov/service-details/bats-of-massachusetts
  3. http://pinebarrensalliance.org/bat-monitoring/
  4. https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/static-page/bats-affected-by-wns