Bats flying in the winter? Or, find a dead bat? Please report. Here's why.

Bat with White Nose Syndrome.  Photo by Marvin Moriarty.
Bat with White Nose Syndrome. Photo by Marvin Moriarty.

Bats are an essential part of the global ecosystem. They save agriculture a great deal of money by eating vast numbers of crop-destroying insects such as Colorado Potato Beetles, and they save humans a lot of itching by eating vast numbers of flying, biting insects such as mosquitoes. For years, bats had an undeserved bad reputation, but gradually we are learning to understand their huge value.

Now, they are under serious threat. A fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome (WNS) is killing bats, and the disease is spreading westward from the eastern United States, and may also be moving northward.

“We knew this deadly fungus was moving westward across North America” says Mandy Kellner, Coordinator of the BC Community Bat Program, “but we thought we had many years to prepare”. Instead, the disease was confirmed near Seattle last March, and bat conservationists are gearing up to look for it in BC this winter.

The BC Community Bat Program has issued a call for help from the public in tracking the spread of the disease.

“We are encouraging the public to report dead bats or any sightings of winter bat activity to the Community Bat Project (CBP) toll-free phone number, website, or email below. Bat carcasses will be submitted for testing for White Nose Syndrome and would provide the earliest indication of the presence of the disease in BC,” says Kellner. Reports of winter bat activity will help focus research, monitoring and protection efforts.

If you find a dead bat, please report it to the Kootenay Community Bat Project (KCBP; 1-855-922-2287 ext 14; or e-mail kootenay@bcbats.ca) as soon as possible for further information. Never touch a dead bat with your bare hands. Please note that if you or your pet has been in direct contact with the bat you will need further information regarding the risk of rabies to you and your pet, as a low percentage of bats do carry rabies.

Currently there are no treatments for White Nose Syndrome. However, mitigating other threats to bat populations and preserving and restoring bat habitat may provide bat populations with the resilience to rebound. This is where KCBP and the general public can help.

Funded by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Province of BC, the Habitat Stewardship Program, Columbia Basin Trust, Kootenay Conservation Program in partnership with the Regional District of East Kootenay, and the Public Conservation Assistance Fund, the BC Community 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.

To contact the BC Community Bat Program, see www.bcbats.ca, email info@bcbats.ca or call 1-855-922-2287 ext 14.

Readers who still think bats are scary should read Merlin Tuttle's fascinating and charming book The Secret Lives of Bats: My Adventures With the World's Most Misunderstood Mammals. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.)