In 2006 people started finding dead bats whose noses were covered in a white fungus in caves around Albany NY.  We now know this is the deadly White Nose Syndrome WNS, which has decimated the bat populations of Europe.  It’s spreading fast, jumping west more than 500 miles just last year, leaving more than a million dead and dying bats in its wake in Eastern U.S. and Canada.

Because they are nocturnal and have been associated with vampires and other ominous pseudo threats, we don’t know much about bats and we worry even less, but their loss is going to hit us hard.  Bats are crucial contributors to the ecosystem and our human health and comfort.   Those one million lost bats will not be consuming almost 700 tons of night-flying insects that harm forests, agriculture and garden crops and spread germs.  (check out my previous bat post ).

WNS did not reach Wisconsin last year, as many feared, but it is just 250 miles away.  Do the math.

Bats were already in trouble before this deadly fungus arrived on the scene because they reproduce slowly.   Mother bats raise just one pup a year.  We don’t make it easy for those pups to live long and prosper.  For one thing, it’s not uncommon to find a pile of dead bats beneath a wind turbine.  Scientists were puzzled by this at first because the bats had no apparent injuries.  It turns out the drop in air pressure causes the bats’ lungs to hemorrhage.

Dave Redell, Wisconsin DNR bat ecologist says in a recent report –   “ We are looking at possible species extinction.  We have a short amount of time to figure out the distribution of bats we have in Wisconsin and apply any management or conservation.”

The Worst Decline of North American Wildlife in Recorded History

Redell goes on to say, “White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) is a devastating disease of hibernating bats that has caused the most precipitous decline of North American wildlife in recorded history. Since it was first discovered in 2006, WNS has infected six species of insect-eating bats in the northeastern and southern U.S., causing declines approaching 100% in some populations; estimated losses have exceeded one million bats over the past three years. If the spread of WNS is not slowed or halted, further losses could lead to the extinction of entire species and could more than quadruple those that are federally listed as endangered in the U.S.  Establishment of a national comprehensive research program is urgently needed to identify underlying mechanisms causing WNS and to develop sound management solutions.””

We really don’t know what is up with bats and never have.  John Paul White, a DNR conservation biologist says bats are among the continent’s least studied wildlife.  That may be about to change.

The DNR is putting out the call to people on private land to report bat habitat like mines, caves, barns, cabins, hollow trees, bridges and ledges where they have seen bats.  To report a cave, call 608 266-5216 or email DNRbats@wisconsin.gov.

The Wisconsin Citizen-Based Monitoring Network is training volunteers to collect bat data.  Last year about 180 volunteers conducted 250 bat surveys.

Bats are tricky to study.  They fly fast, and mostly at night.They emit a chirp and listen for its echos far above the range of human hearing.  Volunteers use hand-held ultrasound detectors to record bat calls.   The results are recorded on the Wisconsin Bat Monitoring Program website.

The Wisconsin Bat Fest this Saturday April 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Lussier Family Heritage Center, Lake Farm County Park, 3011 Lake Farm Road, Madison WI.  Check out the brochure here.

You’ll see live bats from around the world, as well as how to build a bat house.  The event costs $8 for adults 16 and over.  Kids are free.  The proceeds all go to help protect our precious bats.


6 replies

  1. I can see that raising a nature aware population is going to be the quickest way of scientists starting to understand natural events. Having a few thousand folks counting birds in gardens or notifying positions of bats is going to be so necessary to keep a check on populations. Wonder how long it will take scientists though to get out of their ivory towers and realise this? Maybe even learning to use social media to collate information quickly – that will take a mind set change. Interesting thought though!

    Hope the bats in your locality survive. What is the death rate from it?

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head, Joanna. But the scientists are a step ahead of you. Citizen Science is being seen as a way to not only gather data that can not be collected any other way, but also a way to get people to care.

    • There are organizations trying to put the methodology together. I’ll be writing more on this soon.

  2. Thanks for this post and for the wonderful photos! Where are they from? The top (first) is fantastic! I always consider seeing bats as the first REALl sign of spring and this past weekend I saw three.

    • Thanks, Monique
      Yes, bats are amazing creatures.
      I had to do my post on the road because of continuing family health issues, and I accidentally deleted the document with the urls to these photos. I found them by searching google image advanced search looking for photos which one is allowed to reuse. So, if you try searching that way, you will find them. I will try to go back and get the ID up for those, because I typically do give credit for every photo that is not my own, but Doug and I are both pretty distracted at the moment.
      I did want to call attention to this great opportunity to learn more about bats at the Bat Fest, and as I’m sure you are well aware as an artist, a picture is worth a thousand words.

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