White Nose Syndrome (WNS):
As bats are not rodents, they are not very susceptible to rodent-borne diseases. They are under serious threat from White Nose Syndrome, which has been spreading across North America at an alarming rate. This skin infection is caused by an introduced fungus from Europe that affects bats during hibernation; it doesn’t affect humans. The disease causes the bats to awake from hibernation too early, before there is sufficient food supply, so they starve or dehydrate to death. As yet, no instances of transmission to humans or other animals have been detected or reported.
First detected in North America in 2006, WNS is responsible for the deaths of more than 6 million bats in a few years. The 80 to 100% mortality for some species at some hibernacula within 1 to 2 years of contact, has resulted in emergency SARA (Species At Risk Act) listing for Little Brown Myotis and Northern Myotis. WNS impact varies by species. Northern myotis have been completely wiped out in some locales, but Little Browns appear to be recovering slowly after 10 years at some sites. At the moment, there is no approved field treatment, but researchers are hopeful prophylactic, probiotic-type treatment could provide a long-lasting solution for managing WNS. For the time being, precautions to halt the spread of this bat killer include the following:
- Hikers & cavers, maintain scrupulously clean gear and clothing, especially before exploring new areas
- Avoid inadvertently transporting bats from one area to another
- Submit dead bats: call or email your community Bat Conservation organization
- Help to collect guano from roost sites in May
- Help count bats at a roost site near you in May – June, and sporadically throughout summer
BEEPS Bat Houses provided for New Study of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) Prevention
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Canada, in collaboration with Thompson Rivers University, University of British Columbia Okanagan, and McMaster University are testing and implementing a probiotic cocktail derived from anti-Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) bacteria and fungi found on bat wings. This will be tested in a small captive bat trial followed by implementation in the field at maternity roosts in Vancouver. The project builds on evidence that natural microbes on bat wings may increase resistance to WNS by inhibiting the growth/reproduction of Pd, the fungus that causes WNS. This may be a ‘made in the west’ solution as, unlike proposed treatments of the disease which occur during winter hibernation, this enhancement of wing microflora would occur in summer at the growing list of known maternity roosts, working as a prophylaxi for bats heading into unidentified hibernation sites. Researchers are hopeful a probiotic-type treatment could provide a long-lasting solution for managing WNS. Four BEEPS bat houses will be installed in Kamloops as part of the study. Two more bat Houses will be installed in Coquitlam.
Sara explains, “We are currently testing different cryopreservatives for the optimization of our freeze-dried probiotics to inhibit white-nose syndrome. We will be testing a number of possible cryopreservatives so that we can produce the probiotics on a larger scale as well as improve the viability and shelf life of the probiotics. One of the cryopreservatives that we will be testing is bat guano. We are also testing our freeze-dried probiotics at various temperatures to determine the temperature tolerance. We will be using the bat boxes containing the freeze-dried probiotics, closed off from bats, and monitor the temperature inside the chambers. The boxes will be used as they will be best able to mimic the environment that the probiotics will experience throughout the year.”
Lead investigator: Cori Lausen, Undergraduate Research Assistant, Sara Lawrence
Sara Lawrence, collecting guano from Peachland Historic School, and loading Bat Houses for study.
Guano Clean Out & Inspection:
Each year, the Peachland Historic School is inspected by a team of experts and biologists to determine the general health of the roost inhabitants. Once the bats have vacated the attic, and with the assistance of the Peachland Fire Brigade, a team collects guano and deceased bat specimens, for closer examination in a lab. To date, we are delighted to report that any bat deaths have been of natural or accidental causes, as determined through necropsy; not disease. Only then is the collected guano distributed in the community to be used as a soil amender. More about guano…
The absence of resident bats during the colder months allows us to perform attic maintenance and monitor our equipment upgrades. One final inspection is done to ensure the safety of the roost for our bats’ return in the late spring. For example, the 2021 late spring inspection revealed a number of nails from the recent new roof installation, protruding into the attic space, causing a hazard for our flying residents. A team of community volunteers undertook two evenings of installing wine corks at the tip of each nail sticking out, preventing future impalement.
November 29, 2021 – Update: As always, late each autumn, once all the bats moved out, members of the Peachland Fire Department kindly volunteered to help BEEPS to access the attic of the Peachland Historic School on Beach Avenue to inspect the habitat and electronics while we download data from monitoring equipment. Deceased bat specimens are collected for examination to determine the cause of death, with results included in a new bat mortality study. At this time the guano littering the floor is also cleaned up and collected for research purposes and for use as a soil amender. This year’s cleanout took place on November 29th, with BEEPS volunteers, Peachland Firefighters and bat biologists working together to get the job done. The research helps to determine the general health of the colony at large, and individual; bats. We are eager to find out if this summer’s record high temperatures may have played a part in the number of casualties that occurred.
Bats & Human Health:
Bats have unfortunately developed a reputation as being one of the main transmitters of rabies, and this is one of the reasons that people fear them. Bats are a reservoir for rabies in BC – meaning they can carry the disease and pass it on without showing signs of the disease themselves. However, when normal populations of bats are sampled randomly, less than 0.5% of bats tested positive for rabies.
Rabies is a serious illness that can be fatal, however, contracting rabies from a bat is extremely rare. Since 1970, five people have died from rabies in Canada, and four of these deaths followed exposure to bats. Bats should not be feared, but caution should be taken. Bats with rabies may appear sick and weak, and be more likely to be somewhere where people can come in contact – e.g. on the ground. People should beware of bats that act strangely, such as bats flying during the day, and NEVER pick up a sick or dead animal with bare hands. Use gloves or a shovel to gently move the animal away from human activity if possible, or call your local community bat project for advice. If a pet or a person does come in contact with a bat, we recommend immediately contacting a vet or a doctor, (depending on how many legs you walk on). The human vaccine is excellent, involving shots in the arm, and not in the stomach like older versions of the vaccine.
Although the risk of contracting rabies is rare, it is a very serious disease.
Never handle bats with bare hands.
Beware of bats that act strangely, such as flying during the day.
If you are bitten or scratched by a bat, seek medical attention immediately. You can find out more about bats and rabies here.
Another disease that can be transmitted by bats is histoplasmosis, a disease of the lungs. The fungal spores can be transmitted through bat guano, although the primary sources of the disease are from the droppings of starlings, pigeons, and poultry. Luckily, there have been no documented cases of locally acquired histoplasmosis in humans or animals in B.C., indicating that the risk of acquiring this disease in this province is quite low.
Bats & Viruses: A Viral Witch Hunt
By: Merlin D. Tuttle
It has been a bad decade for bats. Prior to the emergence of COVID-19, they were already in severe decline worldwide. Now, they are blamed as the culprits behind one of the costliest pandemics in modern history, even though the source and method of transmission haven’t been identified. Although scientists have an obligation to promptly disclose new threats, premature speculation about bats has been exaggerated in attention-grabbing media headlines. The result has been needless confusion, leading to the demonization, eviction, and slaughtering of bats even where they are most needed.
As of mid-March, “patient zero” for COVID-19 still had not been found, and who or what infected that person remains a mystery. There is even uncertainty about whether the viral jump from an unknown intermediate host to humans occurred in the location initially identified, an animal and seafood market in Wuhan, China. Despite these uncertainties, the media, with no small assistance from scientists, has sensationalized the risks, often without providing perspective, settling on bats as the likely culprit and thus making them targets in a viral witch hunt. Read more…