Dead bats can contribute important information on disease spread. Always wear gloves when handling dead animals. (Submitted - C. Koot.)

Bats begin to hang out as spring approaches in the Okanagan

Early sightings may be a sign of an fungal disease deadly to bats

Bats are soon to be back.

With spring around the corner, the furry flyers will be waking up from hibernation, and a sign that warmer weather is on its way.

However, early bat sightings can also be a sign of a danger to their population, of white-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease responsible for the death of millions of bats in eastern North America.

WNS is spreading on the west coast and confirmed to the west and east of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State, just 150 km south of the B.C.-U.S .border.

The fungal disease has a near 100 per cent mortality for some species of bats, including the local Little Brown Bat. Although devastating for bats, WNS does not affect humans.

Detection of WNS in B.C. is challenging because local bats hibernate singly or in small groups across the province. This means that identifying and tracking the spread of the disease relies on heavily public assistance.

“To monitor the spread of the disease, we need more eyes on the ground. Outdoor enthusiasts and homeowners with roosts on their property may be the first to find evidence of trouble,” said Ella Braden, Okanagan coordinator for the BC Community Bat Program.

READ MORE: More bats nothing to worry about, say Okanagan experts

Signs of the disease include unusual bat activity in winter and the appearance of dead bats outdoors as they succumb to the effects of WNS.

“We encourage the public to report dead bats or sightings of winter bat activity to the BC Community Bat Program 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,” said Braden.

If you find a dead bat, report it to the Okanagan Community Bat Program through their website at www.bcbats.ca, emailing okanaganbats@gmail.com, or calling 1-855-922-2287 ext 13 as soon as possible. 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.

Reports of winter bat activity will help focus research, monitoring and protection efforts.

While bats are generally hibernating out of sight this time of year, not every winter bat sighting signals disaster. Bats often hibernate by themselves in a woodpile or basement entryway. If possible, these sleeping bats should be left alone – keep your distance, snap a photo, and report to the BC Community Bat Program.

If you must move a bat, visit www.bcbats.ca for advice. Remember to never touch a bat with your bare hands.

Bat are also occasionally spotted flying on relatively warm winter days or evenings. Healthy bats may wake up to drink or even eat, if insects are active.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.


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