Seeing Bats? Who You Gonna Call?

me and livingstone's fruit batBy Christina Davy

“Twinkle, twinkle Little Bat, How I wonder where you’re at…” (With apologies to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, 1865)

The winter of 2014 has been a bleak one, with record-breaking cold snaps. Most bats in Canada are hibernating (the exceptions are the species that fly south for the winter). West of Lake Superior, bats hopefully won’t emerge from hibernation until the snows have thawed and their insect prey have emerged. But to the east, it’s a different story.

Ontario is the current Canadian front-line in the fight against bat white nose syndrome because that’s where the current moving edge of the fungus’ distribution is located – next year, that line may be farther west or north, in Manitoba, Alberta or even the Northwest Territories. Bats only get WNS during the winter, and infected bats may display unusual behaviours. They may emerge early from hibernation, before there are insects for them to eat, and are sometimes observed flying during the day in the winter.  There are other circumstances that can also trigger winter flight in bats – but if you see a flying bat this winter, it could be an indication of WNS.

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Little Brown Bats hibernating in a mine in eastern Ontario show symptoms of white nose syndrome. (Photo courtesy of Lenny Shirose, CCWHC).

The fungus that causes WNS is moving inexorably westward, and we need to keep track of its progress to figure out what effect it is having. If we don’t know where the fungus is, we can’t track its effects from year to year. And we won’t know where to look for potential population declines  – or for more encouraging evidence that some bats might be able to survive the disease.

The Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre (CCWHC ) is the national organization that monitors health and disease in wildlife populations. Part of its role is to track the spread of WNS and coordinate a Canadian response.

The trouble is, we need to know “where the bats are at” before we can respond. Observations of day-flying bats are made by whoever is in the right place at the right time – often not the people monitoring the population.

This conservation crisis requires direct action from the public. Please help us to help the bats! It’s simple:

1)            Who you gonna call? Report day-flying, sick or dead bats this winter by calling the CCWHC! Report the location as precisely as possible, along with the date that you saw or found the bat, and the bat’s behaviour. If you find a dead bat, they may ask you to send the bat to CCWHC so they can test for signs of WNS (instructions for reporting and/or shipping are available here ). If you find a live, injured or unwell bat it can be sent to a local wildlife rehabilitation centre (please see this link  for instructions on safely handling injured or trapped bats).

Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island CCWHC Atlantic Region 1-902-628-4314
Quebec CCWHC Quebec Region 1-450-773-8521 ext. 8346
Ontario and Nunavut CCWHC Ontario/Nunavut Region 1-866-673-4781
Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories and Yukon CCWHC Western/Northern Region 1-306-966-5815
Alberta CCWHC Alberta Region 1-403-210-6678
British Colombia B.C. Animal Health Centre 1-604-556-3003

2)            Haven’t seen any bats this winter? You can still make a big difference. Email the CCWHC contact information to everyone you can think of. This way, as many people as possible can report their sightings.

3)            Post the CCWHC contact information on your Facebook page, or re-tweet it! Get your friends to help you spread the word.

4)            You can also report bat sightings to local government wildlife biologists.

CCWHC staff prepare to enter a hibernation site to check for signs of white-nose syndrome. (Photo courtesy of Lenny Shirose, CCWHC).

CCWHC staff and affiliated researchers use reports to pinpoint potential WNS-positive sites. When a previously unknown hibernation site is reported, it can be tested for the fungus that causes WNS, and added to the list of known hibernacula in Canada. When a dead bat is submitted to CCWHC, it is tested for the fungus, as well as for other potential diseases such as rabies. Genetic samples can also be taken for studies of Canadian bat populations. Sampling dead bats submitted to CCWHC allows research projects such as mine to collect genetic samples without increasing stress on populations that are already under a lot of pressure. Finally, the information obtained from tests of bats or of soil at hibernation sites is shared among Canadian and U.S. agencies. This way, the spread of the fungus can be monitored across its expanding North American range.

But this all requires reports from members of the public when they observe sick or day-flying bats. With your help, we can make sure everyone knows who to call!

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4 thoughts on “Seeing Bats? Who You Gonna Call?

  1. Ontario may be one front but Newfoundland and Labrador is another and reporting sightings of winter-flying bats is important on the eastern front as well. Thanks for the informative blog.

  2. Pingback: Saving endangered species: like curling, it’s all about strategy. | The Liber Ero Blog: Reports from the front lines of conservation biology

  3. Pingback: Public action urgently needed to track White Nose Syndrome in bats | Halton / North Peel Naturalist Club

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