Five years ago in upstate New York, bats started dying from a mysterious condition.
Dubbed “white nose syndrome” because of a fungus that grew on affected bats, it has now killed more than a million bats in eastern North America.
Earlier this year, the syndrome was detected in Ontario. It has been confirmed at seven sites in central and northeastern Ontario.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Canadian Co-operative Wildlife Health Centre continue to monitor the spread of the disease and determine its impact on Ontario’s bats.
While the number of bat deaths has been low in Ontario to date, the ministry is concerned about the potential negative impact the syndrome could have on bats in this province.
•What can the public do to protect bats?
You can help by staying away from sites where bats hibernate and reporting any unusual bat behaviour (such as daytime flying) or deaths.
White nose syndrome has been linked to a fungus that grows on bats while they hibernate in natural caves and abandoned mines.
The fungus seems to irritate and cause bats to awaken, so they use their winter fat stores more quickly.
They may leave hibernation sites and fly around outside, often in the daytime, when it’s still winter and where no food sources are available.
Entering caves or abandoned mines may disturb hibernating bats and reduce their ability to survive the winter.
The public is encouraged to stay out entirely or avoid entering natural caves or abandoned mines where bats may be hibernating.
If you see bats flying during the daytime in winter, or you see dead bats, contact the Canadian Co-operative Wildlife Health Centre at 1-866-673-4781 or the Natural Resources Information Centre at 1-800-667-1940.
Do not touch bats, alive or dead, as they can carry rabies.
•Why are bats important to us?
Bats are remarkable creatures. They’re the only mammal that can fly (bats that are just three weeks old are able to fly and find their own food).
Bats eat insects—lots of them. For instance, one bat can consume thousands of flying insects each night during the summer.
Bats navigate and locate food by using echolocation. They send out signals and when the echoes bounce back, the bats can identify where objects are located.
Bats are an important part of Ontario’s biodiversity. Eight different species of bats are found in this province, with little brown and big brown bats being the most common.
Some bats (those affected by white nose syndrome) hibernate in caves while others fly as far as South America for our winter.