Outlook still looking grim for Island bats

Colin MacLean
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This undated handout photo provided by the journal Science shows a small cluster of hibernating little brown myotis (Myotis lucifugus) each showing different stages of infection from the cold-loving fungus, Geomyces destructans. One of the most common bat species could face extinction in the Northeast within decades due to white-nose syndrome, a disease now rapidly spreading. Characteristic white fungal growth is visible on forearm and nose areas. (AP Photo/Alan Hicks, Science)

Islanders reported finding dozens of dead animals over the winter

CHARLOTTETOWN – This winter, somewhere in the Bonshaw area, upwards of 50 bats crawled out of their seasonal refuge and died in the snow.

They were sick and starving, without the energy to fly, let alone deal with the cold.

All together, the Department of Agriculture and Forestry’s fish and wildlife division is reporting that about 90 dead bats were recovered, and another 30 to 40 reported, by Islanders during the winter of 2014. The Atlantic Veterinary College’s Canadian Co-operative Wildlife Health Centre confirmed the animals as all having the deadly white nose syndrome.

Rosemary Curley, a conservation biologist with the province, suspects the real number of dead animals is much higher.

“Most of them are never seen. When they come out of their hibernation they are looking for food, they are totally emaciated, their fat reserves are just gone and they don’t stand much of a chance,” she said.

P.E.I. has two species of bat, the northern long-eared bat and the little brown bat.

Curley said that the condition was first discovered on P.E.I. in 2013 and has rapidly worked its way into the local bat population.

A fungal growth, the condition has spread like wildfire through much of the northeastern North American bat population over the past decade. It is almost always fatal to the animal, forcing them out of hibernation earlier than usual and making them vulnerable to starvation and predation.

Infected caves with bat colonies routinely see a 90 per cent to 100 per cent mortality rate.

Compounding the problem is the fact that little is known about P.E.I. bat populations.

Until the last couple of years, it was believed that most bats found here in the warmer months actually overwintered on the mainland. However, when dead bats started showing up in the winter months, it became apparent that at least some were hibernating here.

But, said Curley, Island scientists know very little about where these bats are coming from and how many live here year round. So there’s not even any way to know how much trouble the local population is in.

All they can do is continue to monitor the situation and keep encouraging research on the subject, she said.

Anyone who spots a bat on P.E.I., alive or dead, is asked to contact the their local forest, fish and wildlife office.

Residents are asked to stay away from any known bat colonies; human contact is believed to be a possible leading cause of white nose syndrome spread.

Colin.MacLean@JournalPioneer.com

@JournalPMacLean

What do you do when you spot a bat?

Contact the forests, fish and wildlife division of the Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

Contacts:  Mark Arsenault at (902) 368-6096 or Chuck Gallison at 368-5275

Please include:

- Your name, address and contact information:

- Sighting date and time of day:

- Sighting location:

- Number of bats:

- Location of colony (if known)

Organizations: Atlantic Veterinary College, Department of Agriculture and Forestry

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