Find out what's troubling these local winged creatures
Little brown bats of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park are enduring a serious disease called white-nose syndrome. The disease comes from a fungus that spread from Europe to North America in 2005. Ecologist Jared Tomie works for Parks Canada in the Highlands and monitors wildlife activity within its borders. He has been monitoring the bat population since the disease arrived in the park in 2015.
On July 19, Tomie checked a “bat-detector” stationed at Warren Lake that has been monitoring for bats since July 5. The detector did show some activity after two-weeks, but Tomie said the number was low. Bats emit ultrasonic sound that the device records onto memory cards for Tomie to analyze. The detector can record up to six to eight weeks of sound on a single battery charge, which allows Tomie to get an idea of bat activity in the area where white-nose syndrome is present.
The disease is causing bats to wake in the middle of a six to seven-month hibernation and look for flying insects to eat that are not present in winter. This roused state causes bats to burn precious fat needed to hibernate. As a result, the bats are dying in large numbers from starvation and dehydration.
The disease was first confirmed in New York state in 2005. Since then, it has spread throughout 22 states and five provinces. According to Hinterland Who’s Who, some areas have experienced bat populations dropping to less than ten percent their original size within two years of exposure to whitenose.
While bats can be seen as pests that appear in attics and barns, the best practice is to live and let live. According to Tomie, bats leave the warm and dark dwellings in late August as swarming season for the bats will begin. Late-summer and early fall is when the bats will look for caves and mines to hibernate in for the winter. As the bats leave, it’s recommended to cover all openings.
In place of an attic or barn, residents can construct a “batbox”. These boxes are made with rough lumber and can be placed on a post in a resident’s back yard. These boxes allow spaces for bats to stay in during the summer with their young, while keeping them out of homes. This allows bats a safe place to nest along with the benefit of insect control, as one bat can eat 1000 bugs every night.
“I like the bat box just because they come with a great message of conservation,” said Tomie.
He said that plans for bat-boxes are common and can be found on whitenosesyndrome.org.