Scientists work to combat White-nose Syndrome

04.09.21

Using echolocation, the Northern Long-eared Bat (Myotis septentrionalis) will find a moth, fly, or beetle making its way through the night sky, flying up to the insect and quickly catching it out of the air mid-flight. This voracious insect eater may have a formidable appetite, but its appearance is docile, with long ears and a wingspan around 9 inches.

Like most bats, Northern Long-eared Bats congregate in caves and mines in winter to hibernate, often nestling into small cracks and crevices. When springtime comes, the pregnant females will head to maternity roosts and then, later in the spring or summer, they will give birth.

When bats return to their winter roosts, they can become exposed to  the Pseudogymnoascus destructans fungus, which causes White-nose Syndrome (WNS). Northern Long-eared Bats have been heavily impacted by WNS, and in some areas up to 98% of Northern Long-eared Bats have died. WNS is such a threat to this species that Northern Long-eared Bats were protected as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2014.

In order to learn more about the Northern Long-eared Bat and other species, Bat Conservation International collaborates with and contributes to the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat). This collaborative program helps scientists collect and share bat data, including acoustic surveys to counts at roost sites, to determine the status and trends of bat populations across the continent.

Scientists at Bat Conservation International are particularly concerned about the Northern Long-eared Bat, because this species rapidly disappears once the WNS fungus shows up in a new area. “Northern Long-eared Bats have declined precipitously across their range since the emergence of White-nose Syndrome,” says Chief Scientist Dr. Winifred Frick.

However, scientists are hard at work to find solutions to WNS and to save bats. The “Fat Bat” project is an example of one such BCI project. Scientists are working to find out if they can help bats enter hibernation with a little more chub on their bones so that they have a better chance at surviving the winter.  Bats with WNS expend a lot of additional energy during winter, ultimately starving. The researchers are using ultra-violet lights to attract an “insect buffet” for bats before they enter hibernation, to see if it helps bats increase their fat reserves and survive.

“Our Fat Bat research is an action that could benefit the Northern Long-eared Bat,” says BCI research scientist Dr. Kristin Jonasson. “We’re eagerly awaiting our next field season to collect more data and expand our research to other areas where bats have been impacted by WNS.”While researchers analyze data and work on summarizing their results, bat aficionados can learn more about WNS and what everyone can do to help.