After white-nose syndrome was detected in bats near Seattle and in south Alberta, scientists say the arrival of the fungus in B.C. is “imminent,” and are asking people to report any signs of dead bats.
White-nose syndrome is a fungal disease that is deadly to bats, but harmless to people. It was first detected in New York state in 2006, and has killed millions of bats since.
Since it was detected close to B.C. the South Vancouver Island Community Bat Program and province are asking people to report dead bats so they can be checked for the fungus.
When bats are in hibernation, if they are affected by white-nose syndrome, they wake up from hibernation in an attempt to wipe off the fungus.
“Because hibernation is really energy expensive waking up from that can be deadly,” said Danielle Buckle, Habitat Acquisition Trust’s Southern Vancouver Island Bat Program Coordinator. “So it leads to starvation and hypothermia and then unfortunately they just can’t survive after that.”
The fungus mostly affects bats over the winter while they are hibernating, so dead bats should be reported up until May 31.
At this time, there is no cure for white-nose syndrome, but reporting dead bats can help scientists research the fungus and work to find a cure – and there are several promising treatments in the works.
“Mostly reporting a dead bat allows us to test for it and if it does have the disease, we can be on top of it and know where it is,” Buckle said.
If you come across a bat and aren’t sure if it is hibernating or dead, Buckle says hibernating bats will be in places like a wood pile or enclosed spaces, while a dead bat is likely to be somewhere out in the open. A dead bat will also be rigid.
Bats are an important part of B.C. and other ecosystems, according to Buckle. She says they are a natural pest control and nutrient cyclers.
“Their guano [feces] is really full of nutrients that we can use as fertilizer, and they’re just part of the natural nutrient cycling system,” Buckle said.
“There used to be different trade routes just to go and get guano, and it’s used for fertilizer…it can be an amazing fertilizer for your garden and that’s one of the selling features, people often want that on their properties, because they’re so good at nutrient cycling and fertilizing the soil.”
Buckle says she encourages people to learn about how important bats are for the ecosystem by reaching out to the Habitat Acquisition Trust or the B.C. bat program.
Anyone who sees a dead bat is asked to contact the bat program via email at [email protected] or by calling 1-855-922-2287. It is also important to never move a bat with your bare hands, and if the bat must be moved, to contact the the bat program for information on how to do so safely.