Monday, October 24, 2022

Help Protect New York’s Bat Populations During Bat Week, Oct. 24 – 31

 

 

Bat Week is an internationally recognized celebration of the important role bats play in our environment. It is a great time to appreciate New York’s nine bat species. Bat Week is observed October 24 through 31.

Unfortunately, many species of bats, including little brown bats, have faced severe population declines due to White-nose Syndrome, a fungus that has killed more than 90 percent of bats at hibernation sites in the state.

You can help protect New York’s bat populations by avoiding caves and mines, which may be home to hibernating bats, from October through April. Human disturbances are very harmful to bats. White-nose syndrome makes bats very sensitive to disturbances. Even a single, seemingly quiet visit can kill bats that would otherwise survive the winter. If you see hibernating bats, assume you are doing harm and leave immediately.

Bats spend the winter hibernating in these underground cavities where relatively constant, warm temperatures protect them from harsh outside winter temperatures above ground. Human visitation in the winter to these “hibernacula” disturbs the bats.

“Bats play an important role in our environment, helping control insect populations,” New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “With Halloween on people’s minds, DEC is urging outdoor adventurers to protect New York’s bats by avoiding caves and mines altogether. Even the quietest cave visits will disturb bats hunkering down for the winter.”

If bats are disturbed during hibernation, they raise their body temperature, depleting crucial fat reserves. This stored fat is the only source of energy available to the bats until the weather warms in spring and insects become readily available. The more frequently bats are disturbed, the less likely they are to survive the long winter months underground without eating. DEC reminds the public to follow all posted notices restricting access to caves and mines. If explorers do venture out and discover bats hibernating in a cave, DEC urges them to leave quickly and quietly to minimize disturbance.

Bat Week is observed each year through Oct. 31, and is organized by representatives from conservation groups and government agencies in the U.S. and Canada.

In recent years, scientists have found some evidence of recovery of the once-common little brown bat throughout New York State. While this seeming stabilization provides a hopeful outlook after more than a decade of devastating population declines, similar evidence of stabilization has not been seen for other severely affected bat species.

Hibernating Bats. DEC photo.

Two species of bats are currently protected under federal and State endangered species law. The Indiana bat, which is sparsely distributed across New York, is a federally endangered bat listed before white-nose syndrome later began affecting bat populations. The northern long-eared bat, currently listed as a threatened species under federal and New York State endangered species law, was proposed to be listed as endangered. The current population for this formerly common bat is approximately one percent of its previous size, making this species the most severely affected by white-nose syndrome. Still, northern long-eared bats are widely distributed in New York and their presence has been documented in most of the state’s approximately 100 caves and mines serving as bat hibernation sites.

A third New York species, the tri-colored bat, was proposed for endangered species protection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Sept. 13, 2022. Although widespread in distribution, tri-colored bats were rare in New York even before they experienced a 98-percent population decline due to white-nose disease.

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. Details about the protection of the northern long-eared bat can be found on DEC’s website.

There is currently no treatment for bats suffering from white-nose syndrome. Along with the New York State Department of Health, DEC is partnering with researchers from the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, and experts at universities across the country to better understand the disease and develop a treatment. This collaborative effort helped identify that reducing disturbances at hibernation sites during the winter can help the remaining animals survive. For more information about white-nose syndrome, visit the White-Nose Syndrome Response Team website.

Some bat facts:

  • They are insect-eating machines, eating thousands of mosquitoes and other flying insects in a single night.
  • Bats use echolocation (rapid pulses of sound that bounce off an object) to detect and catch insects.
  • Bats are more closely related to primates than to mice.
  • They are the only mammal that can fly.

Learn more about bats in Bats of New York State (PDF).

Photo at top: Northern long-eared bat. DEC photo. 

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Information attributed to NYSDEC is taken from press releases and news announcements from New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation.


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6 Responses

  1. LeRoy Hogan says:

    I have a bat house on north side of my shed.

    • Boreas says:

      I have three. But the only bats I get now (Little Brown) are in the roof of my porch annually. They don’t use the boxes.

      They really don’t like anything new. About 20 years ago I decided to remove the ornamental shutters on my house. The E side of my house had dozens of bats sheltering between the shutters and the wall. I left those until winter and removed them. The following summer, there was no real increased usage of my bat boxes! Where they went, I don’t know.

      About the same time WNS appeared, I began getting some usage in the peak of my open porch. Other than guano dropping on my bald head and the occasional scolding from mother, they are good tenants. But it is such a shame about the crash WNS caused. I used to have dozens of bats patrolling my skies at night gulping mosquitos. Now it is a rarity to see any feeding. And the sad part is, in spring, I sometimes see them feeding all day long – as they try to build up the reserves they lost from the disease. It is doubtful these individuals survive.

  2. JC says:

    I’m glad to see the bats gone. They are a source of rabies in humans and livestock. Almost all human rabies cases in the US have been contracted from bats. It is a horrible way to die. We always had a large number of bats around our barns every fall as they gathered to hibernate in nearby old mines. Twice we found rabid bats in our barn hanging over livestock, wings extended and squeeking in mid day. Luckily I was able to knock them down amd stick them with a pitchfork and get them tested. That exposure required that dozens of our animals had to be immediately revaccinated. Another year I had to get rabies shots myself because one flew in my face and scratched me, right in front of our barn. Still I had to live with the dread that the shots might not work. Vermont bat experts at that time estimated that from 5 to 10% of big brown bats, the ones around our barn, were rabid. So, if you have 500 bats in your attic or barn, which is a reasonable number, 50 of them could be rabid. I don’t know that they are such mosquito catchers, as all the ones we saw hanging around here were eating moths and larger insects. Why would they bother with tiny mosquitos. I am an avid environmentalist, but also a realist. There are more deserving creatures worth saving that are not reservoirs of a deadly disease.

    • Boreas says:

      JC,

      While potentially deadly, human rabies is rare. CDC says 1-3 cases reported annually in US from ALL vectors. And animals/livestock should be vaccinated regardless of bat populations. While bats may be the most frequent carriers, bat/human interactions would be quite rare.

      https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/location/usa/surveillance/human_rabies.html

      Bats, like anything else, will target the most nutritious food source. They will certainly eat moths and larger insects when they are present – particularly around light sources. But thankfully the forests are not covered with light sources. In those cases where larger insects are not congregating, mosquitos certainly can make up a significant part of a bat’s diet. As with many, if not most predators, they will eat whatever is available, nutritious, and abundant first – but this can vary from hour-to-hour and day-by-day.

      We should always be looking at the big picture when dealing with ecosystems. Why did bats evolve to fill the niche they do? Ecosystems that have historically contained bats have also adapted to their presence. Whatever they eat at any given time, and whatever diseases they carry, is part of the balance struck in that ecosystem. Losing a portion of an ecosystem suddenly as in WNS, can have serious ecological impacts that may take decades to recognize. Personally, I hope they recover in our area.

  3. bill schroeder says:

    just had 2 bats fly by me when in my basement last night, never had them there in the winter and very few ever at all. if I manage to catch these guys, where do I bring them, they can’t live outside right now and I would rather not kill them.

    • Boreas says:

      Try to find a wildlife rehabilitator in your area and ask them. DEC has contact numbers for licensed wildlife rehabbers.

      But whether they could do anything with them is equally doubtful. If their intent was to overwinter in your basement, you could consider leaving them until spring. But if your basement gets warm, they will likely starve if it isn’t cool enough to fully hibernate. My guess is taking them to an actual hibernaculum would be a bad idea in case they are already diseased with WNS.

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