Little brown bat photograph from Shutterstock
Why should you care about bats? “Besides the fact they’re cute,” says bat researcher Vanessa Rojas, assistant professor at SUNY-ESF Ranger School, based in Wanakena, “the ecosystem services they provide are critical. Bats eat forest defoliators and other pests. I can’t imagine what our forests would be like without them.”
There’s reason to worry. White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), an invasive fungus discovered in 2007, is still a threat. The fungus, which presents as a white fuzz on bats’ faces, grows as the creatures hibernate. It somehow triggers the bats to become active in daylight in winter, burning up energy needed to survive.
In January, Rojas, a member of the Northeast Bat Working Group, met with 200 of her colleagues in Vermont. It was confirmed that WNS has spread to 38 US states and eight Canadian provinces. “In some of the caves surveyed, where WNS hit there’s been a population loss close to 99 percent,” says Rojas.
A figure like that is jaw-dropping. Millions of bats have been killed, especially the northern long-eared, little brown and tri-colored, which are among the cave-dwelling species that live in the Adirondacks. Migratory species that don’t use caves, such as silver-hair, eastern red and hoary, have fared better, though they’re affected by wind turbines and habitat destruction.
The good news? Rojas says she’s still seeing bats on the Adirondack nightscape, including little browns. Today the Department of Environmental Conservation monitors at-risk caves. And scientists and policy-makers are working to adjust federal protections for the most vulnerable species.
Adirondackers can help, too. “Recognize the importance of bats,” says Rojas. “Let the stigma go, enjoy watching them fly around. Bats overhead are part of the Adirondacks’ nighttime aesthetic.”
How to Help
Vanessa Rojas suggests the following for protecting Adirondack bats:
•If a bat finds its way in your home, don’t panic. Open doors and windows— they’re pretty good at navigating out.
•Keep cats indoors.
•Grow a pollinator garden.
•Maintain a dark backyard to help bats forage at night.
•Respect rules about avoiding caves when bats are sleeping or hibernating.
•Less than one percent of bats have rabies. Still, never pick up or touch a bat.
Learn more about bats—the only mammals capable of true flight—at Bat Conservation International’s website, www.batcon.org.
The White-Nose Syndrome Response Team has a site, www.whitenosesyndrome.org, that further explains what it considers “one of the worst wildlife diseases in modern times.”