A fungus endangering bats across much of North America could arrive in B.C. within the next two years, says a biologist specializing in the mammals.
“We thought we had 10 years,” said Doug Burles during a natural history talk in Kenna Cartwright Park Thursday night.
Known as White Nose Syndrome, the fungus is especially hard on little brown bats, common among the 16 species of bats that inhabit the province, Burles said.
Since the winter of 2006 when it was first detected in a cave in New York State, White Nose Syndrome has killed massive numbers of bats in eastern North America but has not been detected in western North America. Then, in March of this year, a single bat carrying the disease was found in Washington State, the first case west of the continental divide. There’s little doubt the fungus will eventually show up here.
“The best way of dealing with that is to get the community involved,” he told an audience of about 25, encouraging participation in bat conservation efforts co-ordinated locally by Kamloops Naturalist Club.
Retired from a career with Parks Canada, Burles studied bats for much of his career and did his masters thesis on the species. In Haida Gwai, where he did research, he’s known as the “batman.” Over the past two years, Burles has been connecting with people in Kamloops to raise awareness of what’s known as the Community Bat Program. People can participate in population counts as well as take precautions to ensure they minimize disturbances nesting areas sometimes found in roofs.
There’s even a toll-free number to call for information: 1-855-9BC-BATS.
Burles gave an overview of bat biology, describing their remarkable physical capabilities, biodiversity and adaptiveness as the only mammal capable of flight. That high-energy behaviour demands a high metabolism. Their hearts beat 1,000 times a minute in flight.
Spotted bats, about 200 of which reside in a barn at Tranquille, are among species that use echo-location to navigate and feed at night. They give short screams, inaudible to the human ear, up to 10 times a second.
Bats are highly effective at insect control, consuming up to 600 mosquitoes every night, though they prefer meatier moths. When there are no insects during winter, they hibernate and survive through a state of “torpor,” their hearts slowing to as few as a dozen beats a minute. They move every two or three weeks, maintaining muscle strength.
Wind turbines represent another threat to bat populations since the mammals are for some reason attracted to the giant rotor blades, Burles said.
Five bat houses were given away through a draw after his talk.
The 6-7 p.m. nature talk series concludes next week, Thursday, Aug. 25, with a focus on the night sky.