As Halloween approaches, images of bats are everywhere. From store decorations to Caped Crusader costumes for people and even pets, bats are a focal point for the season. Unfortunately, in recent years, bats have received far more tricks than treats.
In less than seven years, white-nose syndrome (WNS) has killed thousands of Connecticut’s bats and more than a million bats throughout the Northeast. It has spread to 22 states and five Canadian provinces, leaving a trail of ecological havoc in its wake.
“Halloween is good time to dispel myths about bats,” said Rick Jacobson, Director of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Wildlife Division. “Rather than harbingers of doom, they are a key part of healthy ecosystems and provide tremendous economic benefits to agriculture and forestry through their insect control abilities.”
Here are a few interesting facts:
- Bats are not flying mice. While they are the only mammal capable of true flight, they are more closely related to primates (and people) than to rodents.
- Bats do not get caught in people’s hair. They are adept fliers and rely on sensitive sonar (echolocation) to navigate night skies. Bats that swoop near people are after insects like mosquitoes and moths.
- Bats are not blind. They have good eyesight, but rely on echolocation to master night flight.
- Bats are not filthy or covered with parasites. Clean wings are essential for executing intricate flight patterns, so bats spend great amounts of time grooming themselves.
- Three species of bats are known as vampire bats. They are found only in Latin America and are a parasite of birds and cattle.
- Worldwide there are almost 1,000 kinds of bats; Connecticut has only eight native species.
“Learning more about bats and the important role they play in healthy ecosystems would be a great Halloween ‘treat’ for this beleaguered group of animals,” said Jenny Dickson, DEEP Wildlife Division Biologist. “Several species of bats that call Connecticut home have been devastated by white-nose syndrome. Knowing why bats matter is an important first step in efforts to address this unprecedented mortality.”
The affected species are known as “cave bats,” and in Connecticut include little brown, northern long-eared, tri-colored (pipistrelle), big brown, and the Indiana bat (a federally endangered species). Since 2007, the DEEP has been an active participant in WNS response. Biologists continue to monitor hibernating bats for signs of WNS and document mortality. They also are tracking summer maternity colonies closely to see if WNS is having a negative impact on bat survival and the ability to give birth and raise young.
While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in the process of gathering information to determine if two bats once common to Connecticut and to the Northeast – the northern long-eared bat and the small-footed bat – warrant protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, biologists and researchers in the U.S. and Canada race to complete detailed studies of the fungus associated with WNS to determine if there are safe and effective ways to treat or control the fungus, and most importantly, how to halt the spread of WNS across the U.S. and Canada. Many of these efforts have been supported by the State Wildlife Grant program, a critical source of funding for addressing urgent wildlife disease issues.
More information on white-nose syndrome and related conservation efforts can be viewed at http://whitenosesyndrome.org/
As cooler weather approaches and bats settle in to hibernate, the DEEP encourages Connecticut residents to help in monitoring white-nose syndrome here at home. Report bats found outdoors from mid-November through mid-March. While the characteristic white fuzzy fungal growth may not be readily visible on a bat’s nose, bats seen flying during the day or clinging to the outside of a building during late fall and winter are a sign that white-nose syndrome may be at work.
Sighting details, including the date, location, what you observed, and digital photos if possible, may be submitted to the DEEP Wildlife Division at [email protected] or by calling the Wildlife Division’s Sessions Woods office (860-675-8130).