Sunday, April 17th was International Bat Appreciation Day and I was remiss in publicly honoring Nantucket’s bats! Northern long-eared, Red, Hoary, Silver-haired and Big Brown Bats make up the diversity of bat fauna of our Island and help to keep our insect populations in check. We at the Nantucket Conservation Foundation certainly appreciate the ecosystem services that our bat friends provide and celebrate them every day!
We do have unfortunate news to share in regards to our bats though. Every year we await the emergence of Northern long-eared bats from winter hibernation. These bats spend their winters on island in small groups of 2-5 bats within the cinder blocks of old crawl spaces or basements. As soon as we begin seeing calls of bats or get reports from Nantucket citizens of bats flying in the early spring, we try to get out to capture a few and collect swabs from their ears, noses and wings. We then send these samples to a lab at Northern Arizona University that tests them for the presence of the fungus that causes White-nose Syndrome. To date, our samples have mostly come back negative, or at very low levels of fungal load. Sadly, our first two bat reports this spring season did not even need to be tested. Both bats were dead and showed obvious symptoms of White-nose Syndrome. The skin on their faces, ears and wings was dry and flaky, and when looked at under a black light, the fungus was clearly visible, see image below.
We were hopeful that Nantucket bats would continue to remain relatively isolated and White-nose free but knew it was likely only a matter of time before we began to see WNS become more prevalent here. It is more important than ever now to maintain high quality habitat in both the summer and winter here. Their best shot at continued persistence on Nantucket is having safe roosting locations to rear their pups in the summer – their preferred forest type on Nantucket is definitely pitch pine forests with nearby water sources. Keep your yards wild and pollinator-friendly so there is plenty for bats to eat. They love moths and beetles!
Across their entire range in North America, the Northern long-eared bat is considered at high risk of species extinction. This reality has lead the US Fish and Wildlife Service to recently recommend upgrading the designation of this species from federally Threatened to Endangered. A final decision is likely forthcoming by the end of the year.
The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us now! www.nantucketconservation.org