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Tag Archive | "Hannah Schauer"

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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Monarch butterflies a sure sign of summer 


A monarch butterfly on milkweed. Photo courtesy of the Michigan DNR.

One of the state’s most distinctive signs of a new season is on its way—the brightly colored monarch butterfly. A well-known and beloved butterfly species in North America, monarchs, unfortunately, have become a much less common sight in recent decades.

The eastern monarch butterfly population has declined by more than 80 percent over the last 20 years, primarily from habitat loss, both in their summer range—including Michigan—and in Mexico, where they spend the winter.

“Adult monarch butterflies require a variety of flowering plants for nectar,” said Hannah Schauer, wildlife communications coordinator with the DNR. “Grasslands provide a mix of plant species that pollinators, like the monarch, need – with both early- and late-blooming plants and those that flower mid-summer.”

Monarchs returning to Michigan will depend on these early-blooming plants to refuel and build up their energy, so they can lay eggs for the next generation.

Grasslands also support milkweeds, vital to the monarch’s reproductive cycle because they’re the only species of plants that monarch caterpillars eat. Milkweeds also provide food resources for other animals.

A backyard garden can provide important habitat for pollinators, too. As you plan for this year’s garden consider the tips at https://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/mi_pollinator_gardening_tips_615821_7.pdf. When you do start spotting monarchs, be sure to report those sightings because it helps inform conservation decisions here in Michigan. Report sightings and track their migration at Journed North http://www.learner.org/jnorth/.

Related, the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies recently shared a new draft plan aimed at reversing the decline of the eastern monarch butterfly population and is welcoming public review and comment on it. See it at http://www.mafwa.org/.

Find out more about ways you can help monarchs in Michigan by visiting michigan.gov/monarchs or contacting Hannah Schauer at 517-388-9678. 

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It’s best to leave snakes be


 

The only venomous snake species found in Michigan, the rare eastern massasauga rattlesnake is shy and avoids humans whenever possible.

Michigan is home to 18 different species of snakes, 17 of which are harmless to humans

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources gets many questions this time of year about Michigan’s snakes. Eighteen different species of snake call Michigan home, but only one of them poses any real harm to humans.

“Whether you think snakes are terrifying or totally cool, it is best just to leave them be,” said Hannah Schauer, wildlife communications coordinator for the DNR.

The snake the DNR gets the most questions about is the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, the only venomous species found in Michigan. This snake rarely is seen and is listed as a threatened species by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service due to declining populations from habitat loss. As its name implies, the massasauga rattlesnake does have a segmented rattle on its tail. It should not be confused with the other, harmless species of snake in Michigan that do not have segmented rattles but will buzz their tails if approached or handled.

“The massasauga rattlesnake tends to be a very shy snake that will avoid humans whenever possible,” said Schauer. “They spend the vast majority of their time in wetlands hunting for mice and aren’t often encountered.”

Schauer said that when a massasauga is encountered, if the snake doesn’t feel threatened it will let people pass without revealing its location.

“If you do get too close without realizing it, a rattlesnake will generally warn you of its presence by rattling its tail while you are still several feet away,” Schauer said. “If given room, the snake will slither away and likely will not be seen again.”

Rattlesnake bites, while extremely rare in Michigan, can and do occur. Anyone who is bitten should seek professional medical attention.

Another snake that can cause quite a stir is the eastern hog-nosed snake, one of the many harmless species found in Michigan. When threatened, hognose snakes puff up with air, flatten their necks and bodies, and hiss loudly. This has led to local names like “puff adder” or “hissing viper.” If this act is unsuccessful, they will writhe about, excrete a foul-smelling musk and then turn over with mouth agape and lie still, as though dead. Despite this intimidating behavior, hog-nosed snakes do not pose a threat to humans.

Michigan snakes do not attack, chase or lunge at people or seek out human contact. If you have spotted a snake, stay at least 3 feet away from the head to avoid getting bit. Handling or harassing snakes is the most common cause for humans getting bit. Simply put, if left alone, Michigan snakes will leave people alone.

To find out what other kinds of snakes Michigan has and how to tell the difference between them, check out the “60-Second Snakes” video series on the DNR’s YouTube channel.

Learn more about Michigan’s snakes by visiting mi.gov/wildlife and clicking on the “Wildlife Species” button, then selecting “Amphibians and Reptiles.”

Please consider reporting any reptile or amphibian sightings to the Michigan Herp Atlas research project to help monitor amphibian and reptile populations in the state and protect these important Michigan residents for future generations. Visit www.miherpatlas.org for more information.

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DNR: Keep Michigan’s wildlife wild


Baby rabbits are among the young wildlife often encountered by those getting out in nature. Photo Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Baby rabbits are among the young wildlife often encountered by those getting out in nature. Photo Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

 

Each spring and summer, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is flooded with calls as people across the state run into a common dilemma—they have come across a baby animal and desperately want to help.

Hannah Schauer, a DNR wildlife education technician, spends time talking with the public about why it is better to leave baby animals in the wild.

The vast majority of the time these wild animals do not need our help,” Schauer said. “Wildlife can survive on a day-to-day basis without help from humans.”

Survival adaptations

White-tailed deer fawns often are left alone by their mothers in an attempt to keep predators from finding them. Baby rabbits are among the young wildlife often encountered by those getting out in nature. Photo Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

White-tailed deer fawns often are left alone by their mothers in an attempt to keep predators from finding them.
Baby rabbits are among the young wildlife often encountered by those getting out in nature.
Photo Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Most wild critters have a few survival tricks up their sleeves. Take white-tailed deer, for example.

Female deer typically birth their fawns in May and June. A newborn fawn is unsure of its footing and is unable to keep up with its mother. So, the mother deer hides her small, spotted fawn in a secluded spot for safe keeping.

The mother deer then intentionally leaves her fawn alone to help increase its chances of survival. Beyond the spotted camouflage and the instinct to lie very still, fawns have an additional survival adaptation. Fawns are born with very little scent, making it challenging for predators to find them.

An adult deer, however, has plenty of scent to it, and—being a large animal—is fairly easy to spot,” Schauer said. “So, rather than hang around and draw attention to where she has carefully hid her fawn, the mother deer opts to graze elsewhere.”

The doe returns periodically to nurse her fawn and is usually not too far away. It doesn’t take long before the fawn is strong enough to keep up with its mother and then has a better chance of outrunning a predator. Fawns are rarely abandoned.

Wildlife concerns

DNR wildlife staff suggests that if you happen to find a fawn or other baby animal, please leave it in the wild.

Taking an animal from the wild is not only illegal, it is dangerous. A wild animal, especially a baby, may seem harmless, but they rarely are. If you bring a baby animal into your home and it actually survives, it will eventually grow up.

As animals grow, they will experience hormonal changes as well as physical and behavioral changes,” Schauer said. “Raccoons, for example, are known for exhibiting aggressive behavior as they age.”

An animal may act tame, but it is instinctively a wild animal and will act like one.

Besides aggressive and potentially dangerous behaviors, wild animals can carry diseases and parasites, many of which can be transmitted to your pets or to you or your children. The laws prohibiting possession of wild animals are in place to keep people, as well as the wild animals, safe.

Tougher rules

In some cases, the DNR must put even stricter regulations in place to look after the health of an entire species. Such is the case in central Michigan, where in May 2015 the state’s first case of chronic wasting disease (CWD) was confirmed in a free-ranging, white-tailed deer from Ingham County.

The disease is a central nervous system affliction found in deer, elk and moose (cervids). It attacks the brain of infected animals, creating small lesions that result in death. Chronic wasting disease is transmitted through direct animal-to-animal contact or by contact with saliva,urine, feces, blood and carcass parts of an infected animal or infected soil.

Once it arrives, CWD can spread through the deer population and all deer infected with the disease will die. Because infected deer may not exhibit symptoms right away, you cannot tell just by looking at a deer if it is suffering from CWD.

Taking an unhealthy deer from the environment and attempting to rehabilitate it has the potential to increase the spread of CWD. Bringing infected deer into contact with other deer in rehabilitation centers, can risk contaminating those facilities. For that reason, rehabilitation of deer in Clinton, Shiawassee and Ingham counties in Lower Michigan is prohibited. As new cases of CWD are discovered, the list of counties where rehabilitation of deer is prohibited may grow. 

So far, CWD has not been found in the Upper Peninsula. To continue monitoring the situation, the DNR plans to ask hunters this fall to voluntarily submit deer heads for testing in the counties bordering Wisconsin.

In Lower Michigan, there is mandatory testing for deer harvested within the CWD Management Zone and voluntary testing occurring elsewhere for any hunter who wants to submit a deer head. To learn more about CWD and how you can help, visit mi.gov/cwd.

Wildlife rehabilitators

Ultimately, a wild animal’s best chance of survival is staying in the wild. This is especially true for baby animals.

Only licensed wildlife rehabilitators may legally possess abandoned or injured wildlife. Unless you are licensed, it is illegal to possess a live wild animal in Michigan. The only time a baby animal may be removed from the wild is when you know the parent is dead or the animal is injured. However, a licensed rehabilitator must be contacted before removing an animal from the wild.

Licensed wildlife rehabilitators must adhere to the law and have gone through training on proper handling of injured or abandoned wild animals. These rehabilitators will work to return the animal to the wild where it will again realize its best chance for survival.

A list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators in Michigan can be found by visiting mi.gov/wildlife or by calling your local DNR office.

Look for #KeepMiWild on the DNR’s social media this spring and summer and share the importance of keeping wildlife in the wild.

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