A little brown bat with visible symptoms of fungal growth typical of white nose syndrome. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Researchers watching for spread of white nose syndrome

Spring bat reports can help monitor spread of deadly disease

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 overwinter. 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 (1-855-922-2287 ext 24 or info@bcbats.ca)”.

Never touch a bat with your bare hands as bats can carry rabies, a deadly disease. Please note that 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 at www.bcbats.ca.

Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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