White nose syndrome
White nose syndrome is a fungal disease that infects bats when they are hibernating. It is lethal to them.
“It’s a little bit late in the year to be looking at them, but we’re still looking at many of the mortalities to see if they have any signs of white nose syndrome,” according to Shelley Moores, senior manager of Wildlife Research with the province’s department of Municipal Affairs and Environment.
“When they are in their caves in the wintertime, the fungus gets on them,” Moores explains. “It’s transferred both to the surface of the caves and into the bats. It causes wing damage and often it will grow around their face; that’s where you get the white nose name for the disease.
“It causes them to be aroused throughout the winter because it dehydrates them. They wake up quite a bit more frequently then they normally would and that causes further dehydration and burns up a lot of their energy stores,” she said. “Then you will actually find them on the landscape, in late winter, early spring.
“Even when there is snow on the ground, sometimes you will find a flying bat because they are awake, and they are looking for food and water. They are so dehydrated and emaciated, they don’t survive.”
The disease has a 99 per cent mortality rate for bats.
Diseased bats have been found recently in St. Andrews, Stephenville, Bay St. George area, Steady Brook and Rocky Harbour.
The disease usually starts to spread in the fall when the bats are swarming and looking for mates. It usually takes two years to get a 99 per cent infection rate.
“It hung off the coast of Newfoundland for a while,” Moores says. “Once it hit Nova Scotia, it sort of stopped for a few years.
“We had kind of hoped that it wouldn’t make it across the (Cabot) Strait but there is genetic evidence that the bats do move back and forth. We just didn’t know how frequent that was.”
She went on to say, “In the fall bats from a bunch of different areas come together and they swarm and that’s when they breed. When they are swarming, that’s when the spores can be exchanged because some of the bats will be going in and out of the hibernation site and bats from other areas can come in and they can contaminate that particular area as well.”
White nose syndrome started in the north eastern United States and moved into Canada at the rate of approximately 250 kilometres a year. It has crept into bat colonies past the Rockies in the States but has only been found as far west as Ontario in Canada.