Scientists Search for Nova Scotia’s Living Bats

By Ben Hamill - September 07 2018
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Deep in the heart of Nova Scotia lies an abandoned building that is highly prized among provincial biologists. Inside this building is one of Nova Scotia’s last surviving bat colonies, the rest of which were all but wiped out by white-nose syndrome back in 2011. The dreaded fungus has killed off millions of North American bats, and scientists say that three species in Nova Scotia alone – the little brown bat, tricolored bat, and long-eared bat – were annihilated. According to Mersey Tobeatic Institute biologist Lori Phinney, her team found hundreds of dead bats in the years following the initial epidemic. The fungus spreads rapidly, according to Phinney, when bats group together during their hibernation months. The wildlife biologist explained that white-nose syndrome causes bats to wake up while in hibernation, which depletes their energy levels and leads to their demise as they only have a certain amount of energy stored for winter. As there are no food sources for them during this time, they end up freezing to death after a couple of weeks.

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Bat Population Continues to Grow

Apparently, less than 5% of Nova Scotia’s bats survived the outbreak. Now, Phinney and her colleagues are studying the remaining populations in an attempt to determine how to bring back their numbers and protect the surviving species. Since 2016, researchers have been travelling to the abandoned building mentioned above to count the surviving bats and take notes on their behavior. In that year, their numbers peaked at 278, while in 2017 it rose to 338. Most recently in summer this year, 380 bats were counted in the building’s decaying roof. On a trip in August, the research team counted 29 bats that flew out of the roost’s window, heading into the night to feed on thousands of moths and other insects before returning later in the evening. Naturally, that is a great reason to protect the province’s bats in itself, as a single bat can eat up to 1,000 insects an hour. This also helps Nova Scotia’s agricultural sector by protecting crops from insects that would otherwise feast on them. Biologist Lori Phinney is researching the bat colony in Nova Scotia Biologist Lori Phinney is researching the bat colony in Nova Scotia

Vandalism: A Continuous Problem

There is also a good reason why the roost is being kept a secret. According to Phinney, the building at another bat recovery site was vandalized, with her team arriving for a survey one day to find smashed windows and a gunshot through one of the bats’ roosting boxes. She fears that the ordeal could be down to a fear that bats carry rabies, even though this is unheard of in the Canadian province. However, there is still hope. Researchers have received countless reports of bat sightings since setting up a website and hotline in 2013, and continue to gain data that helps them to understand why some bats managed to survive. In the meantime, the search continues, and all Nova Scotians are invited to assist in the process by reporting any bat sightings to local scientists. Bat with white nose syndrome Bat with White Nose Syndrome that extinguished a few species in 2011.

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