White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a disease caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans. This fungus grows on the exposed skin of bats as they hibernate during the winter in caves and mines. The cool temperatures of these hibernating sites allows the fungus to grow and spread throughout the site and on the bats themselves. The disease shows up as a fuzzy white substance on their ears, wings and muzzles. However, this isn’t the only damage this fungus causes. Internally the bat’s muscle tissues and blood vessels are affected and the bats end up dying as a result of dehydration (they lose water and electrolytes from their wings) and starvation (they wake up from hibernation more frequently using their fat reserves which can’t be replaced as flying insects are not available).
The results of WNS are devastating with some Canadian populations down by 90 percent in only three years.
WNS is a fairly new disease. Although it’s now considered native to Europe it was only first observed in 2006 in New York and not until 2010 in Canada. Much research is being done including establishing baseline data on bat populations, learning about native cave fungi, looking for techniques to stop or control the spread of WNS, and establishing research priorities and best management practices. It’s quite amazing what has been learned so far!HelpTheBats.ca is the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s response to ensure Canadian bat populations are protected. The HelpTheBats.ca program engages schools and other groups in learning about Canadian bat species and the current threats to their survival, including habitat loss and white nose syndrome. This disease is decimating bat colonies across Eastern Canada. Our outreach program has engaged over 2,000 schools and groups across Canada, with a citizen science component that has distributed hundreds of bat boxes and educational materials, all designed to encourage people to monitor bats in their area and send us their data.
And you can help too! Be sure to read our Bat Conservation Specialists blog called “Bat Citizen Science Opportunities”. You can learn about ways to help as well as who to contact if you see a bat outside this winter.
White nose syndrome is an intimidating foe, but by taking action in partnership with CWF you can help bats fight back. Your contribution could be as simple as purchasing one of our unique “Keep Bats Undead” T-shirts or CWF-branded bat boxes. A bat box is a wonderful way to offer bats in your area safe haven once they come out of hibernation this spring. You can also download plans for the CWF web-site to build your own. It’s simple and easy to do. These are small steps but they go a long way to helping CWF continue its efforts to save the bats! Remember, sometimes even bats need a superhero. Thanks for stepping in to be one.
TIP: Be a citizen scientist! Report sightings of bats and other wildlife via iNaturalist.ca. Look for the app on your smartphone.