White nose syndrome causes a distinctive fungal growth on the snout of a bat. The disease was first identified in 2006 in the state of New York and is estimated to have caused 5–7 million bat deaths, mostly in eastern U.S. and Canada. In 2016 it was found in the state of Washington. Wikimedia Commons photo

Researchers want to know if deadly bat disease is in B.C.

White nose syndrome reached the state of Washington in 2016

Kamloops This Week

The simple act of reporting a dead bat may help save the lives of other B.C. bats.

The B.C. Community Bat Program is asking people to report any dead bats they find in an effort to determine the distribution of white nose syndrome, a fungal disease harmless to humans but responsible for the deaths of millions of insect-eating bats.

The disease has been spreading across North America and reached Washington state in 2016.

White nose syndrome attacks bat colonies as they hiberate. The enclosed spaces can be quite humid and the fungus grows on their fur, face and wings.

The itchy fungus weakens the bats, forcing them to use energy to wake from their hibernation to scrape it off, fatally depleting their stored resources.

So far, the disease hasn’t been reported in B.C. but to monitor its spread, bat program co-ordinators are collecting reports of unusual winter bat activity across southern B.C. and ensuring dead bats are sent to the Canadian Wildlife Health Centre lab for disease testing.

Information gained from dead bats and reports of live bats can help determine the extent of the disease and determine priorities for conservation efforts.

There are no treatments for white nose syndrome, but lessening other threats to bat populations and preserving and restoring bat habitat may provide bat populations with the resilience to rebound.

Funded by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Province of B.C. and the Habitat Stewardship program, the bat program works with the government and others on public outreach activities, public reports of roosting bats in buildings, and our citizen-science bat monitoring program.

Spring conditions mean increased bat activity and an increased chance of detecting the disease.

As bats begin to leave hibernation spots and return to their summering grounds, chances of seeing live or dead bats increases and the Community Bat Program is continuing to ask for assistance.

People are asked to report dead bats or any sightings of daytime bat activity to the Community Bat Project as soon as possible by calling 1-855-922-2287 (extension 24) or by emailing info@bcbats.ca.

Never touch a bat with your bare hands as bats can carry rabies, a deadly disease.

If you or your pet has been in direct contact with a bat, immediately contact your physician and/or local public health authority or consult with your private veterinarian.

More information about bats is available online bcbats.ca.

Your chance to be Bat Man

Bat Watch is a citizen science program to annually monitor bat populations in roost sites.

Abandoned houses, barns, church steeples — and even occupied structures — can provide a summer home to female bats and their young.

Monitoring these maternity colonies can give biologists a good idea of how bat populations in an area are doing from year to year. With the occurrence of white nose syndrome in North America, monitoring these colonies is more important than ever.

Ideally, the bat count includes four counts during the summer: two between June 1 and 21 (before pups can fly) and two more between July 21 and Aug. 15 (when pups are flying and leaving the roost with their mothers).

Doing all four bat counts is the best way to compare data from year to year and between sites.

However, if you don’t have time, you can choose your level of participation:

• Level 1: Bat reporter — one count over the summer (try between June 1 and June 21);

• Level 2: Bat tracker — two counts between June 1 and June 21;

• Level 3: Bat enthusiast — two counts between June 1 and June 21 and two counts between July 21 and Aug. 15.

Generally, bat counts are simple.

Arrive at your bat roost at sunset as bats will begin to emerge at dusk. The air temperature should be at least 12 C with low wind speed.

Sit or stand outside so the bats’ exit point is visible from a comfortable distance. More than one person might be needed if bats are leaving from multiple points.

Tally the bats as they fly out for their nightly insect-eating. Bat Watch can provide you with a hand clicker to make counting easy. Record your observations on the data sheet that can be downloaded from online.

Mail us your data sheet at the end of the summer.

Do not enter bat roosts or handle the animals.

Please respect private property. Ask permission if the bat roost is on someone else’s land.

All the information on bat counting can be found online at bcbats.ca.

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