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A bat’s battle: under siege while sleeping

A bat’s battle: under siege while sleeping
Migratory bats will soon return to the region while our resident bats begin to emerge from their elusive overwintering hibernacula.
Migratory bats will soon return to the region while our resident bats begin to emerge from their elusive overwintering hibernacula.
IMAGE: Marvin Moriarty, USFWS
A hibernating bat, infected with the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome.
IMAGE: Marvin Moriarty, USFWS
A hibernating bat, infected with the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome.

A bat’s battle: under siege while sleeping

By Mackenzie Brown
By Mackenzie Brown
Waterton Biosphere Reserve
Shootin’ the Breeze Waterton Biosphere Reserve
April 7, 2024
April 7, 2024

Migratory bats will soon return to the region while our resident bats begin to emerge from their elusive overwintering hibernacula. It won’t be long until our evening celestial choreography will change from the rhythmic falling of snow to the fluttering of wings.

While Waterton Biosphere Reserve residents often await the first prairie crocus blossoms revealing themselves through melting snow, the bats’ return could soon become a story told in the past tense.

First observed in 2006 in a cave near Albany, N.Y., an invasive disease called white-nose syndrome has been amassing millions of dead bats in its path as it spreads across North America.

The disease is caused by a cold-loving fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or Pd for short, that grows on the face and wings of bats as they are in a slowed state of rest or hibernation. Pd often collects around the muzzle and gives the impression of a face dipped in icing sugar.

All bats in Alberta are insectivores, meaning they eat only insects, and those that don’t migrate south survive our insect-less winter months by entering a physiological state of extreme energy efficiency called torpor or, in extended periods, hibernation.

 

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During torpor, a bat’s heart rate, metabolic rate and respiratory rate are slowed, allowing the bat to persist on fat reserves while its food source is unavailable. But this is when white-nose syndrome strikes.

The fungus that causes WNS is irritating to bats’ skin and initiates unplanned wake-ups.

Waking up from torpor early, or multiple times, burns through energy reserves the bats rely on to get them through to spring and can lead to death by starvation and dehydration or exposure.

The fungus that causes WNS has been detected near Waterton Biosphere Reserve, and is anticipated to soon breach our border. We expect severe population declines in the coming years, particularly amongst the myotis bats like the little brown myotis.

There is currently no cure or prevention measure for WNS. However, some experimental treatments such as antifungal probiotics are showing promise, and potential dispersed roost and hibernacula sites may lead to lower rates of spread in Western Canada.

 

Ace of spades card on ad for Chase the Ace at the Pincher Creek Legion

 

Map showing locations white-nose syndrome has been detected in bats.

White-nose syndrome (Pd-positive) occurrence map, March 27. WNS has been moving westward since its first detection in 2006. Data available at www.whitenosesyndrome.org.

 

The impact of an ally

Waterton Biosphere Reserve residents can support local bat populations heading into and through this challenge with continued maintenance of places bats need to roost, hibernate and forage.

Resident bats give birth to one pup a year, and moms invest a great deal of time into raising and caring for their young. These habitat stewardship initiatives will help with bat population resilience following initial declines.

Reporting dead or daytime flying bats with signs of WNS this spring will also help track potential spread of the disease. WNS does not affect people or other animals, and, while bat-associated diseases are rare in Alberta, there are important safety steps and considerations you can take to ensure both you and the bat stay safe if your paths cross.

First and foremost, never touch a bat with your bare hands.

 

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If you are confident you have found a dead bat, rather than a bat in a hibernation-like state of torpor, this is an important time of year to report your discovery to your nearest Fish and Wildlife Office, which can be located by calling the Alberta Environment and Protected Areas information centre at 1-877-944-0313.

These experts will inform you on how best to safely handle and submit the bat carcass for disease monitoring and testing.

Get in touch with us at bats@watertonbiosphere.com or the Alberta Community Bat Program at info@albertabats.ca for advice or assistance regarding dead or living bats.

For anyone visiting a cave in Alberta or North America, learn more about how to reduce the spread of WNS here. In Alberta, it is illegal to enter a cave where bats are hibernating between Sept. 1 and April 30.

The bats’ battle is really a shared one, as we know they contribute to pest control for crops, livestock and humans. Join our efforts to help build resilience in bats by reporting dead or daytime flying bats spotted over the next couple of months.

 

Shootin' the Breeze connection to more local stories

 

Ad for Ascent Dental in Pincher Creek

Migratory bats will soon return to the region while our resident bats begin to emerge from their elusive overwintering hibernacula. It won’t be long until our evening celestial choreography will change from the rhythmic falling of snow to the fluttering of wings.

While Waterton Biosphere Reserve residents often await the first prairie crocus blossoms revealing themselves through melting snow, the bats’ return could soon become a story told in the past tense.

First observed in 2006 in a cave near Albany, N.Y., an invasive disease called white-nose syndrome has been amassing millions of dead bats in its path as it spreads across North America.

The disease is caused by a cold-loving fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or Pd for short, that grows on the face and wings of bats as they are in a slowed state of rest or hibernation. Pd often collects around the muzzle and gives the impression of a face dipped in icing sugar.

All bats in Alberta are insectivores, meaning they eat only insects, and those that don’t migrate south survive our insect-less winter months by entering a physiological state of extreme energy efficiency called torpor or, in extended periods, hibernation.

 

Ad for Vape in Pincher Creek

 

During torpor, a bat’s heart rate, metabolic rate and respiratory rate are slowed, allowing the bat to persist on fat reserves while its food source is unavailable. But this is when white-nose syndrome strikes.

The fungus that causes WNS is irritating to bats’ skin and initiates unplanned wake-ups.

Waking up from torpor early, or multiple times, burns through energy reserves the bats rely on to get them through to spring and can lead to death by starvation and dehydration or exposure.

The fungus that causes WNS has been detected near Waterton Biosphere Reserve, and is anticipated to soon breach our border. We expect severe population declines in the coming years, particularly amongst the myotis bats like the little brown myotis.

There is currently no cure or prevention measure for WNS. However, some experimental treatments such as antifungal probiotics are showing promise, and potential dispersed roost and hibernacula sites may lead to lower rates of spread in Western Canada.

 

Aerial view of the Cowley Lions Campground on the Castle River in southwestern Alberta

 

Map showing locations white-nose syndrome has been detected in bats.

White-nose syndrome (Pd-positive) occurrence map, March 27. WNS has been moving westward since its first detection in 2006. Data available at www.whitenosesyndrome.org.

 

The impact of an ally

Waterton Biosphere Reserve residents can support local bat populations heading into and through this challenge with continued maintenance of places bats need to roost, hibernate and forage.

Resident bats give birth to one pup a year, and moms invest a great deal of time into raising and caring for their young. These habitat stewardship initiatives will help with bat population resilience following initial declines.

Reporting dead or daytime flying bats with signs of WNS this spring will also help track potential spread of the disease. WNS does not affect people or other animals, and, while bat-associated diseases are rare in Alberta, there are important safety steps and considerations you can take to ensure both you and the bat stay safe if your paths cross.

First and foremost, never touch a bat with your bare hands.

 

 

If you are confident you have found a dead bat, rather than a bat in a hibernation-like state of torpor, this is an important time of year to report your discovery to your nearest Fish and Wildlife Office, which can be located by calling the Alberta Environment and Protected Areas information centre at 1-877-944-0313.

These experts will inform you on how best to safely handle and submit the bat carcass for disease monitoring and testing.

Get in touch with us at bats@watertonbiosphere.com or the Alberta Community Bat Program at info@albertabats.ca for advice or assistance regarding dead or living bats.

For anyone visiting a cave in Alberta or North America, learn more about how to reduce the spread of WNS here. In Alberta, it is illegal to enter a cave where bats are hibernating between Sept. 1 and April 30.

The bats’ battle is really a shared one, as we know they contribute to pest control for crops, livestock and humans. Join our efforts to help build resilience in bats by reporting dead or daytime flying bats spotted over the next couple of months.

 

 

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Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.