Human disturbance is especially harmful to the state’s bat populations since the arrival of the disease known as white-nose syndrome, a fungus that has killed more than 90 percent of bats at hibernation sites in New York due to how closely bats congregate in caves during winter months.
Even a single, seemingly quiet visit to a cave can cause bats to temporarily increase their metabolism and expend significantly more energy than normal.
Know Your Protected Adirondack Bat Species
The Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), which is sparsely distributed across New York, is a state and federally endangered (since 1967) species listed before white-nose syndrome began affecting bat populations. You can read an essay about Indiana Bats in the Adirondacks here.
The northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) is protected as a threatened species under federal and New York State Endangered Species law. The current population for this formerly common bat is approximately one percent of its previous size, making the species the most severely affected by white-nose syndrome. Nonetheless, northern long-eared bats are still widely distributed in New York. Their presence has been documented in most of the 100 or so caves and mines that serve as bat hibernation sites in the state.
The eastern small footed myotis (Myotis leibii) is listed in New York State as a species of special concern. In 2013 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency declined protection for the small-footed bat, which is one of the two smallest cave dwelling bats found in the Adirondacks (eastern pipstrelle is the other). You can read about those here.
The little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) is expected to be added to the state’s endangered and threatened species list early in 2020.
The public should follow posted notices restricting seasonal access to caves and mines. Anyone entering a northern long-eared bat hibernation site from Oct. 1 through April 30, the typical hibernation period for bats, may be subject to prosecution.
If cave explorers encounter hibernating bats while underground they are encouraged to leave the area as quickly and quietly as possible. It’s better for the bats if cave explorers just stay out of the caves altogether at this time of year.When bats are disturbed during hibernation it forces them to raise their body temperature, depleting fat reserves. This stored fat is the only source of energy available to the bats until the weather warms in spring.
Bat Week is observed through Oct. 31, and is organized by representatives from conservation groups and government agencies in the United States and Canada.
There is currently no treatment for bats suffering from white-nose syndrome, which was first documented in a cave near Albany in 2006. You can read about white nose syndrome and Northern New York bats here. For more information about white-nose syndrome, visit the White-Nose Syndrome Response Team website.
You can read more about each of the bats found in the Adirondacks (including our two caveless bats (the hoary and the silver hair) here at the Adirondack Almanack.
Photo of bat with white-nose syndrome courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.