CHARLOTTETOWN - The Prince Edward Island government is asking the public to help combat a deadly infection affecting bats in the province.
© AP Photo/Alan Hicks, Science
This undated handout photo provided by the journal Science shows a small cluster of hibernating little brown myotis (Myotis lucifugus) each showing different stages of infection from the cold-loving fungus, Geomyces destructans. One of the most common bat species could face extinction in the Northeast within decades due to white-nose syndrome, a disease now rapidly spreading. Characteristic white fungal growth is visible on forearm and nose areas.
Officials from the forests, fish and wildlife division of the environment department are requesting the public to report sightings of live and dead bats after last winter’s discovery of White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) in the province.
Biologist Rosemary Curley said last winter was the first time an Island bat was found to be suffering from the fatal fungal infection that has already killed an estimated more than six million bats in eastern North America.
“If people report when and where they see live or dead bats during the winter months, it will help us to get a better picture of bat populations on P.E.I. and possibly provide some insights into their survival and what the future may hold for bats,” said Curley.
The infection causes bats to wake up frequently during hibernation, which uses energy from their vital fat stores that would normally help them survive the winter months.
Once fat stores are depleted, a bat will emerge to look for more food but their typical insect prey is not available during the winter months so they die of starvation and hypothermia.
Recently, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) recommended that the Maritime’s three species of hibernating bats be listed as endangered due to the impacts of WNS.
This includes the Little Brown bats and Northern Long-eared bats that inhabit P.E.I.
Provincial staff have been working with the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at the Atlantic Veterinary College to identify WNS but there is also little that can be done to protect bats from the infection.
The department has described the infection spreading to P.E.I. as “bad news because of the crucial roles bats play in our environment and economy.”
A single bat will eat hundreds of flying insects every night during the spring and summer months.
The infection is not harmful to humans, however, individuals should never handle a wild animal that is behaving abnormally, said the department.
Officials have recommended that Islanders prevent disturbances to hibernating bats and preserve summer roosting sites.
Officials also said that any sightings may help locate over-wintering sites on P.E.I. so that further monitoring can take place.
Individuals can contact the forests, fish and wildlife division at (902) 268-4683 or the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at (902) 628-4314.