Since the discovery of a population of Northern long-eared bats on Nantucket in 2015, the Foundation’s Science and Stewardship Department has been working hard to understand how these bats use habitat here. Because this species is at a high risk of extinction throughout much of the rest of the northeast, we feel it is critically important to understand the ecology of the bat on Nantucket and to protect their habitat wherever possible. We need help from the community of Nantucket!
Northern long-eared bats, as well as several other species, have been decimated by a disease called White-nose Syndrome, caused by an introduced fungus, Psuedogymnoascus destructans, or Pd. The fungus is spread from bat to bat while they are hibernating in caves. It grows on the skin of the face and wings, giving the bat an appearance of having a white nose. This fungal growth irritates the bats and causes them to awaken and fly in the dead of the freezing winter when they should be deep in hibernation. Bats with white-nose syndrome quickly burn through the fat reserves they built up throughout the fall and they essentially starve to death by the time they are supposed to emerge in the spring. Additionally, the fungus can cause damage to the wing membranes so even if they made it through the winter, they may be unable to fly. Where this bat used to be one of the most common species, researchers are now reporting declines in populations between 90-99%.
On Nantucket, however, Northern long-eared bats appear to be healthy so far. All the bats that we have captured here have shown no symptoms of disease and only one swab returned a positive for the presence of Pd at a very low level and that bat was asymptomatic. This indicates that Nantucket bats are certainly exposed to Pd but for some reason do not seem to be succumbing to the disease.
Right now, one of the most important aspects of our work is to locate where these bats are hibernating. Traditionally these bats are cave and mine hibernators – Nantucket does not have either of these structures so where could they be hibernating here? We know that some bats are staying on Nantucket throughout the winter as we pick up their calls late in to the fall, and periodically on warmer days in the winter. To answer the question of where they are hibernating here, this fall, we spent many nights netting for bats and gluing radio transmitters to their backs in hopes that they would lead us to their hibernacula.
One of the bats that we captured in early November led us to a crawl space underneath a cape-style house. The crawl space had a mud floor, with some standing water and cinder block walls. We found at least 4 other bats using the same location, all tucked in between sistered floor joists and we believe there to be more hibernating inside the cinder blocks. The crawlspace also contained plenty of moths, spiders and mosquitoes – on warmer nights it’s possible the bats can wake and move around – especially if there’s food to be eaten!
We were lucky to find one hibernaculum this fall although we were certainly hoping for more – it’s like searching for a needle in a haystack. If you have a crawlspace or basement in your house that you think could possibly be housing bats for the winter, we would love to check it out for you. You can call the foundation at (508) 228-2884 or email Danielle O’Dell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We believe that finding more hibernacula here will shed some light on the big question of why our bats so far seem to be healthy and avoiding the devastation of white-nose syndrome. Learning about the winter behavior and habitat of Northern long-eared bats on Nantucket is critical to the conservation of this species. Any leads about winter bats would be much appreciated!
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