There are about 1000 species of bats in the world, and most are beneficial. A little brown bat, for example, can consume more than 600 mosquito-sized insects in an hour. While these flying mammals aren’t blind there is no way they can see white-nose syndrome coming.
White-nose syndrome is a disease caused by a fungus that affects only bats using caves to hibernate. The fungus irritates the bats, causing them to wake during hibernation, and without available food (insects), they starve to death.
Currently, the fungus is present in eastern North America, including five provinces. It is slowly spreading westward and scientists expect it will eventually be in Alberta.
Once the fungus is present in a cave, it can cause the death of the majority of the bats; in some cases 98 per cent of the bats in the cave have died. At least six million bats have died from white-nose syndrome since it was first discovered in New York state in 2006.
The fungal spores are transferred from bat to bat, and scientists suspect that the spores can also be carried on clothing or equipment. As a precautionary measure, Cadomin cave in Alberta has been temporarily closed to the public. The best thing we can do to protect Alberta’s bats is to keep the fungus out of Alberta for as long as possible. The provincial government has worked with members of the caving community to develop decontamination protocol for clothing and equipment used in caves to minimize the risk of accidentally transferring spores.
There is a North American program in place to better understand species distribution, and the effect on the bat population if white-nose syndrome is present. The program consists of monitoring bats, at certain locations for five years, in three ways:
1) Recording the echolocation calls of bats;
2) Counting the number of bats in summer colonies; and
3) Counting the number of bats in hibernacula.
Alberta is participating in the program and encourages people to contact Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Species at Risk Biologist Lisa Wilkinson if they are aware of large summer colonies or hibernation sites.