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Tag Archive | "bats"

Showcasing the DNR: Saving Michigan’s bats


Red bats are one of the nine species of bats found in Michigan. Photo by Michigan DNR.

By Hannah Schauer, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

 

Maybe you’ve noticed fewer bats active during those warm, buggy summer evenings and wondered why?

This situation is not unique to Michigan. In fact, many places throughout North America have seen declines in bat numbers.

The reason for the reduction in numbers for many species of bats is a fungus named Pseudogymnoascus destructans—responsible for a disease called white-nose syndrome that is killing bats in parts of America and Canada.

Many insect-eating bats survive winter by going into hibernation, during which they lower their body temperature and fat deposits accumulated during autumn months are used to sustain them.  

Places where bats hibernate, such as caves or underground mines (known as hibernacula), are ideal environments for this fungus, as it thrives in cold, damp conditions.

The fungus disrupts hibernation, causing bats to prematurely and repeatedly awaken, quickly depleting their fat reserves and diminishing their body condition.

“Bats weakened by the loss of fat reserves are unable to replenish themselves due to lack of insects to eat in winter and die before spring,” said Dan O’Brien, veterinarian at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Disease Laboratory. “Infected bats often exhibit abnormal behavior such as flying during daylight hours or gathering outside of caves in cold weather.” 

The disease is called white-nose syndrome because of a white powdery appearance on exposed skin, like the muzzle and wings, of affected bats.

White-nose syndrome was first documented during the winter of 2006-2007 in New York. It was confirmed in Michigan in early 2014.

Transmission of the fungus associated with white-nose syndrome primarily occurs through bat-to-bat contact but can also be transmitted by humans visiting infected caves and mines without decontaminating their shoes and equipment.

While there is no evidence that white-nose syndrome is infectious to humans, the loss of large numbers of bats may have an indirect impact on people.

Bats are a primary predator of nighttime insects and large-scale losses of bats may lead to an increase in insect populations, some of which cause crop damage or spread diseases. 

Efforts to help Michigan’s bats

“The DNR has been on the leading edge of bat conservation and research for a long time,” Bill Scullon, DNR Wildlife Division field operations supervisor, said. “Working with partners and researchers is as critical as ever in the battle to save our bat species from white-nose syndrome.”

One such effort is the gating of entrances to important bat hibernacula to minimize human disturbance to hibernating bats. Custom steel structures are designed and put up to ensure public safety while allowing the bats to come and go freely from the hibernacula. 

“These gates have been built on both public and private lands,” said DNR wildlife biologist John DePue. “Some of these gated sites house large populations of bats in the winter and are important locations to protect.”

Michigan is also one of the few states that participates in field trials of potential treatments to combat white-nose syndrome.

Researchers and students from Western Michigan and Ball State universities, working with the DNR, have been applying an organic compound—derived  from shellfish, called chitosan—to bats and the inside of hibernacula. This chitosan compound appears to help bats combat the effects of white-nose syndrome.

Additionally, in some of Michigan’s hibernacula, University of California, Santa Cruz researchers have been treating sites with chlorine dioxide. Treatment is applied to the site when bats are not present to reduce the number of spores that cause white-nose syndrome.

“Chlorine dioxide is used to kill all the fungal spores throughout a mine during the summer, before bats return for the winter,” said DePue. “This will disinfect the site and reduce infection rates and mortality rates.”

DNR staffers, along with researchers from Eastern Michigan University, also conduct annual bat monitoring. Hibernation sites are visited during the winter to learn about places where bats are experiencing higher survival rates, and to monitor population trends.  

Status of bats in Michigan

Nine species of bats are found in Michigan. Little brown and big brown bats are the species most often seen by people. Silver-haired, red and hoary bats are also found in Michigan. 

The tri-colored bat (or eastern pipistrelle) is a species of special concern in Michigan and the evening bat is listed as a threatened species. 

Indiana bats have been under the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act since 1967. The northern long-eared bat was added to the List of Threatened and Endangered Species as a threatened species in recent years.

“Due to the severity of the decline in population from white-nose syndrome, the northern long-eared bat was listed as a threatened species by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in April of 2015,” said Dan Kennedy, DNR endangered species coordinator. 

Allen Kurta, a professor of biology at Eastern Michigan University, said recent surveys of hibernacula in Michigan indicate an 83-percent decline in bats at those survey sites, compared to data from surveys conducted before white-nose syndrome’s arrival.

“The data indicate a 77-percent decline in little brown bats, a 93-percent fall in eastern pipistrelles, and a 96-percent decrease in northern long-eared bats,” Kurta said. “It is getting very difficult to find a northern long-eared bat anywhere in the state.”

Although these numbers are dire, not all bats seem to be as heavily impacted by white-nose syndrome.  

In addition to caves and mines, some bats may use man-made structures, like buildings, as hibernacula. These places may not provide appropriate conditions for the growth of the white-nose syndrome fungus, allowing for higher bat survival rates.

“Big brown bats and silver-haired bats do not seem to be experiencing major declines,” Kurta said.

For now, we will continue to see fewer bats dotting the night’s sky in Michigan, but the DNR and its partners are working hard to ensure those numbers increase and that bats will not be eliminated from the landscape.

How to help bats

Installing bat houses can be helpful for bats. Various factors are important when putting up a bat house, including location, color and height. Bat houses should not be in areas frequented by people or domestic animals. To learn tips and tricks for bat houses, check out Bat Conservation International’s website, batcon.org, filled with bat house resources.

Maintaining bat habitat is another way to help bats. Some bats like to roost in trees that have loose bark. Maintaining these types of trees can provide additional roosting locations. Many bats prefer forested areas near a water source, as these places are often abundant with insects.

Those exploring caves or mines should be sure to abide by closures and follow decontamination guidelines (see whitenosesyndrome.org) to reduce the spread of white-nose syndrome. Avoid visiting these locations during the winter months when bats may be hibernating.

Other ways to help bats:

Minimize the use of insecticides as these can impact a variety of animal species, including bats.

Do not attempt to help injured bats. Because of concerns for disease transmission, rehabilitation of bats is illegal in Michigan. 

Donate to the DNR’s Nongame Fish and Wildlife Fund and talk to others about how to help bats.

Learn more about Michigan’s bats by visiting michigan.gov/bats.

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KCHD urges caution as bat and human interactions increase in August 


This bat was captured on August 17, 2017 in Kent County.

This bat was captured on August 17, 2017 in Kent County.

In the past several days the Kent County Health Department (KCHD) has started to receive reports from people who have had contact with bats indoors. While these types of encounters are not uncommon in August, any direct contact with a bat represents a potential exposure to rabies.

It is critically important to capture the bat for testing if there is reason to believe a person may have been bitten or scratched by a bat. Do not release a bat if you find it in the room of a sleeping person, an unattended child, someone who is mentally impaired or an intoxicated individual as they may have been bitten without their knowledge.

A captured bat in Kent County will be sent to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for testing. If the bat tests negative for rabies, then no treatment is required. However, if a bat tests positive, or if the bat is not available for testing then the exposed person should receive the post-exposure prophylaxis for rabies.

To safely capture a bat, experts recommend that you wear leather gloves to avoid being bit. Place a box or a coffee can over the bat and then slide a piece of cardboard under the container to trap the bat inside. Secure it with a piece of tape and contact the Kent County Health Department at 616-632-7200 during regular business hours. If you know that you have been bitten or scratched by the bat and the exposure has occurred outside of normal business hours, seek medical attention but keep the bat.

While relatively rare in the United States, human cases of rabies are almost always associated with bats.

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system and is invariably fatal once symptoms appear.

“Bat encounters rise every year during late August and early September,” says Adam London, Administrative Health Officer at KCHD. “We can’t stress enough how important it is to be able to perform tests on these animals. Unless you are certain that no one has been bitten by a bat you find in your home, please do not let it go.”

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BEE One in a Million


BLOOM-Bee-one-in-a-millon

BLOOM-Bee-one-in-a-million-logoResidents have a chance to become part of the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge (MPGC), a nationwide call to action to create gardens and landscapes that help revive the health of bees, butterflies, birds, bats and other pollinators across America.

The challenge was launched by The National Pollinator Garden Network, which collectively represents nearly one million active gardeners and 15,000 schoolyard gardens. The Network is challenging the nation to reach the goal of one million additional pollinator gardens by the end of 2016. The Network will work to provide resources for individuals, community groups, government agencies and the garden industry to create more pollinator habitat through sustainable gardening practices and conservation efforts.

They hope to move millions of individuals, kids and families outdoors and make a connection between pollinators and the healthy food people eat.

Any individual can contribute by planting for pollinators and joining this effort to provide a million pollinator gardens across the United States. Every habitat of every size counts, from window boxes and garden plots to farm borders, golf courses, school gardens, corporate and university campuses. Everywhere we live, work, play and worship can, with small improvements, offer essential food and shelter for pollinators.

“If we all work together—individuals, communities, farmers, land managers, and local, state, and federal agencies—we can ensure that every American child has a chance to enjoy the beauty of creatures like bees, monarch butterflies, and hummingbirds,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife

Federation. “By joining forces with the National Pollinator Garden Network on the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, the National Wildlife Federation and our affiliates are amplifying these collective efforts to address the growing threats affecting so much of America’s treasured wildlife.”

Pollinators Gardens should do the following:

• use plants that provide nectar and pollen sources

• provide a water source

• be situated in sunny areas with wind breaks

• create large “pollinator targets” of native or non-invasive plants

• establish continuous bloom throughout the growing season

• eliminate or minimize the impact of pesticides.

Learn more at www.millionpollinatorgardens.org and join the discussion on Twitter through the hashtag #PolliNation.

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