There seems to be an abnormal number of bats in the southwest part of the province this year and no one really knows why.
Lori Phinney, a wildlife biologist with the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute (MTRI), says it’s an abnormal year.
“It’s been really weird. We’re trying to figure out what’s going on,” she said.
MTRI staff members have been monitoring the population at several sites in southwest Nova Scotia. Counts are double what they normally see at this time of year.
According to Phinney, researchers are seeing May and June population counts that they would normally see in July.
Sightings in May and June consist of mainly female bats. Male bats congregate with the females during hibernation but do not help with taking care of the pups at all. At the end of June or early July pups are born.
“This may just be a really good year for bats,” said Phinney in a phone interview. She advised it doesn’t necessarily mean the bat population is increasing, “But we are happy to see more bats.”
Bat populations have declined dramatically over the past number of years, especially between 2011 to 2013, which reflects some of the more recent statistics.
The bat population is down about 90 per cent from what was observed prior to the introduction of the White Nose syndrome to the province. This is an invasive fungus that wakes hibernating bats and has caused millions of mortalities in native species such as the little brown bat (the most populous species in the province), northern long-eared bat and the tri-coloured bat, all of which are now endangered in Nova Scotia.
According to Phinney, although there is testing being done to try and combat the fungus, currently there is no cure for it.
Another reason for the decline in bat populations is the loss of habitat, such as old trees or old houses and barns, which themselves are becoming fewer and fewer in number.
Phinney is encouraging anyone who sees a bat on their property to call MTRI, or sightings can be reported by calling 1-833-434-2287 or going online at www.batconservation.ca
Property owners can also help with conservation efforts by maintaining bat habitat on their property. This includes minimizing pesticide use, protecting water quality and leaving dead trees standing.
Despite what some people may think, bats are advantageous to have around. They pose virtually no danger to people when undisturbed and they consume a significant amount of insects at night.
Canadian Wildlife Service and the Wildlife Conservation Society have co-opted on a project aimed at increasing the bat population. Researchers are looking to design effective bat boxes. Property owners are encouraged to buy and use these, or make their own, and report any bat sightings.
Those wishing to participate in the project can go to BatBox Project- National Project (wcsbats.ca)
Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin