Public help needed to monitor spread of deadly bat disease! White Nose Syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease responsible for the death of millions of bats in eastern North America, has moved to the west coast and was confirmed in Washington State in 2016. The presence of this disease in the west coast is very worrisome for the health of bat populations in British Columbia, with near 100% mortality for some species of bats exposed to the fungus.
This disease is caused by a cold-loving fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans, and it affects bats during hibernation, where they are more susceptible to disturbance. Bats wake up more often from hibernation spending most of their energy reserves before the winter is over. The typical first sign of this disease is bats flying during the winter looking for food, an unusual sighting at a time of year when bats are hibernating. Another sign of the presence of WNS is the appearance of dead bats as they succumb to the effects of the disease.
One of the most common BC bats, the Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus) has had its eastern populations devastated by WNS. In 2014 this species with its “survival imminently threatened by WNS” as well as the Northern Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) and the Tri-colored Bat (Perimyotis subflavus) were listed as Endangered under SARA through an emergency listing order.
The BC Community Bat Program in collaboration with the BC government and local conservation organizations like the South Coast Bat Conservation Society (SCBats) is requesting the public’s help in monitoring the spread of this disease. We are asking for the support of the community to report dead bats and any winter activity. Dead bats will be tested for the fungus responsible for the disease and will provide an early detection of WNS if the bats are infected. Early detection of WNS in BC and reports of winter bat activity will help focus research, monitoring and protection efforts. If you find a dead bat, please contact the South Coast Bat Conservation Society at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-855-922-2287 ext. 11 as soon as possible for further information. Please remember, you should never touch a dead bat with bare hands. If you or your pet has been in direct contact with the bat, you will need to contact your local health unit.
Humans are not affected by the P. destructans fungus. While some recent applications of experimental treatments have shown a level of success, currently White Nose Syndrome marches on destroying local bat populations in its wake. However, mitigating other threats to bats and preserving and restoring bat habitat may provide bat populations with the resilience to rebound. Here is where SCBats with the help of the general public can help. We are a non-for-profit organization, and our mandate is to improve our knowledge, generate awareness, increase stewardship and provide technical and scientific services for bat conservation.
The BC Community Bat Program, funded by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Province of BC, the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species At Risk, works with the government and others on public outreach activities, public reports of roosting bats in buildings, and our citizen-science bat monitoring program.
To contact SCBats to learn more about bats in Metro Vancouver got to www.scbats.org, or email email@example.com or call 1-855-922-2287 ext 11. If you are outside Metro Vancouver contact the BC Community Bat Program at www.bcbats.ca, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-855-922-2287
Images: Little Brown Myotis showing symptoms of White Nose Syndrom fungal infection on snout (top) and damage to wing membranes from spread of the fungus. US Fish and Wildlfie Service.