Bat Hibernation on Nantucket?

In 2015, to the great surprise and delight of the conservation community, we were able to add another species to the Island’s list of mammals – we confirmed the presence the Northern long-eared bat on Nantucket! It’s not very often that you can add a new mammal to your list – but this tiny, nocturnal mammal managed to fly under our radar for this long (pun absolutely intended). This species is listed as “Threatened” by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and “Endangered” in Massachusetts. Everywhere else in the northeast, this bat has been nearly completely wiped out by White-Nose Syndrome, a fungus that attacks bats during hibernation in the winter. Here on Nantucket and in a few other coastal locations including Martha’s Vineyard and Long Island, these bats seem to be persisting.

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Northern long-eared bat on Nantucket. Photo credit: Allison Black

Since their discovery, we have learned a great deal about where Northern long-eared bats are found on Nantucket in the summer and what kind of habitats they use. We’ve used radio telemetry to track lactating female bats to maternity roosts and we’ve captured (and released) newly flying juvenile bats in the summer. We’ have been using passive acoustic detectors to “listen” for bats throughout the year. The one big question that remains is are they hibernating on Nantucket? We believe the answer is yes and we are asking the Nantucket community for help in locating hibernation sites on Island!

Elsewhere in the country, these bats generally hibernate in old mines and caves where temperatures are relatively constant and cool, and humidity is high. Of course, we don’t have these types of structures here on Nantucket. What we do have are basements, crawl spaces, attics and lots of old buildings. Last winter, we tracked one bat to a crawl space under a house where it remained for the winter with four of his friends. Despite our best efforts, that is the ONLY spot we have found so far where these bats could be spending the winter. They were tucked up between sistered floor joists in a gap less than 1/2 inch wide.

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Northern long-eared bat in between sistered floor joists in a crawl space under a house on Nantucket, winter 2016/2017. Photo credit: Danielle O’Dell

We are on the lookout for bats on Nantucket in the winter. If you think you might have bats in your attic, basement, crawl space, etc. please give us a call at the Nantucket Conservation Foundation office (508) 228-2884. We would love any reports of bats at any time of year, particularly in the winter. We’re looking for fairly undisturbed, cold spaces that might have high humidity. Old basements or crawlspaces, or capped wells or cisterns would probably be ideal.

Learning more about hibernation on Nantucket is incredibly important. We need to know if our bats are infected with the fungus that causes White-Nose Syndrome. The best way to test for this is by finding them while they are hibernating and collecting a swab of the area. It is possible that our faraway island is providing a refugium for this species!

To learn more about our bat work, please see our previous blog posts here and here.

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The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends 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!  www.nantucketconservation.org

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