Fish and Wildlife officials are asking the public to report any winter sightings of live or dead bats after the recent discovery of a northern long-eared bat in Prince Edward Island.
“To our knowledge, bats do not normally overwinter in Prince Edward Island in any numbers so it may have been blown here from Nova Scotia or New Brunswick in a winter storm,” said Rosemary Curley, biologist with the Department of Agriculture and Forestry. “We are working with staff at the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre of the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) to determine if this is the first reported case of bat white nose syndrome. Given the social nature and migratory patterns of bats, as well as the large scale bat mortalities occurring on the mainland, it was just a matter of time before this fungus arrived on the Island.”
Preliminary findings indicate the bat was likely suffering from white nose syndrome, a fatal fungal infection that has been decimating bat populations across much of eastern North America. The fungus causes bats to wake up frequently during hibernation which requires them to use more energy from their vital fat stores which normally helps them to survive the winter months.
Once these fat stores are depleted, the bat emerges to look for more food. However, their typical insect prey is not available at this time of year, so they die from starvation and hypothermia.
Over the last several years, it is estimated that more than six million bats in eastern North America have been killed by this disease which continues to spread into new regions.
Unfortunately there is little that can be done to protect bats from this often fatal infection.
"This is bad news because of the crucial roles they play in our environment and economy," states a news release from Fish and Wildlife. "Every night during spring and summer, a single bat will eat hundreds of flying insects such as mosquitos and other agricultural pests."
While white nose syndrome is not known to be harmful to humans, people should not touch or handle any animal that is behaving in an abnormal manner. There are no treatments or effective control methods for this fungus. The best way is to prevent disturbances to hibernating bats and to preserve their summer roosting sites.
Fish and Wildlife officials are interested in information regarding any winter sightings of live or dead bats. This may help to determine if bats are over wintering on Prince Edward Island so that further studies can be undertaken.