Tag Archives: batweek

Long days in urban bat outreach

Demo at our house 2 (1)

Bat walk led by Amanda Bevan, Urban Bat Project, Organization for Bat Conservation in Pontiac, Michigan.  Credit: Organization for Bat Conservation.

Amanda Bevan is busy and for her, that’s a good thing.

As the Organization for Bat Conservation’s Urban Bat Project Leader, Bevan educates city folks about the importance of bats, and if she’s busy, it means people are aware of the decline of bats due to white nose syndrome (WNS) disease and want to help.

With the help of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service WNS grant, Bevan organizes conservation and outreach partnerships in 10 cities in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Tennessee, New York, Minnesota, Ohio and the District of Columbia. She says she hopes to expand the project to other cities in the future with additional funding.

Partners include a Milwaukee horticultural society, Columbus Audubon, Illinois State Museum,  a District of Columbia Fisheries and Wildlife Division bat biologist, high school teachers and students, bat researchers and horticulturalists like those at the New York Botanical Gardens.

They set up warm, safe bat boxes made from upcycled Chevy Volt battery cases for breeding females, plant bat-friendly gardens of wildflowers that attract the bats’ prey insects, and conduct bat walks in which citizen scientists drive and walk around urban areas with hand-held bat detectors that records bat calls and identify species through an app on their smart phones.

Fulton High school construction class_Knoxville_TN

Students in Fulton High School’s construction class building bat houses using donated corvette circuit boards and Chevy Volt battery cases from GM. Credit: Organization for Bat Conservation.

“Most of the time, people can learn what species are living in their neighborhood in real time,” Bevan said.

Surprisingly, urban bat habitats are important, Bevan explains. Urban bat conservation may help reduce effects of WNS by providing alternative roosting habitat that might be unsuitable for the fungus that causes WNS, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or Pd.

Urban bats likely hibernate in the city in addition to breeding there in the summer, and Pd cannot survive the temperatures and humidity found in buildings and bat houses. If the urban bat project increases public support for bats in cities, it might bolster populations that have been decimated by WNS in other habitats.

“We don’t know if big brown bats are not as affected by WNS in cities.”

Typically people find big brown bats in urban areas, a species that has escaped much of the large population drops found in other species.  “We don’t know if big brown bats are not as affected by WNS in cities,” Bevan adds.  It’s one of many questions about urban bats she hopes the citizen science project can address in the future.

The urban bat project is not just focused on big brown bats. Urban areas are important for migrating bats through urban areas from other populations in other regions. Project participants often see little brown bats in the city and northern long-eared bats in eaves of suburban homes and trees that surround them.

Bevan’s work also includes presentations with live bats from the 11 species housed at the Organization for Bat Conservation’s injured bat sanctuary. In addition to flying foxes and other bats from around the world, she gives her audiences a close-up view of species that fly around their neighborhood such as Indiana and big brown bats.


Red bat spotted in Detroit by one of Organization for Bat Conservation’s  Urban Bat Project (UBP) partners. Credit: Organization for Bat Conservation.

When a child and their parent attend one of the Organization for Bat Conservation’s environmental education events, Bevan reminds them how useful bats are in agricultural and urban areas. She cites a scientific paper (by Boyles et al. 2011) when she explains that insects can spread fungi destructive to crops and that insect-eating bats can save the agricultural industry $3.7 billion per year.

She adds that some bats like Indiana bats increase their intake of mosquitoes during the breeding period, and that supporting maternity colonies with bat boxes helps reduce numbers of the pathogen-carrying insects. All of this helps the public understand how bats benefit them and are glad to see their bat neighbors thriving.

To help the Organization for Bat Conservation in their efforts to #Savethebats, please visit their web site.

I’ve Gone a Little Batty!

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Bat Week participant wearing her newly colored mask. Credit: Craig Stihler/WVDNR

If you haven’t heard, Bat Week was in full flight from October 24th to the 31st. What is Bat Week you ask? Bat Week is an annual, international celebration of these amazing flying mammals and how they play important roles in our ecosystem. Once again, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service West Virginia Field Office and Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps in Elkins held open house events to educate the public about bat biology and conservation efforts, joining hundreds of others across the United States and Canada to celebrate the wonderful world of bats.

Your probably think, “Eww why would anyone want to throw a party for a bunch of flying rats?” Well…

#1 Bats are not “eww.” They are actually quite cute, with some having the faces of a fox.

#2 Bats are not rats with wings. Yes, the bat is in the ancient group Laurasiatheria with modern relatives that include the shrew… but also whales. The bat’s closest mammalian relative is still a mystery.

Last, but surely not least,

#3 Who wouldn’t want to throw a party in celebration of the only flying mammal that does so many important jobs in the ecosystem that humans benefit from?

Bats are the only mammal that can truly fly, making them a unique addition to the world’s ecosystem. Worldwide, there are more than 1,300 species of bats. That’s almost 20 percent of all mammal species! Bats can be found in all parts of the world, performing vital ecological services such as insect control, pollinating flowers, and seed dispersal.

These bats are a natural insect control, eating thousands of insects per night to protect our farms, forests, and gardens. A single bat will eat up to its own body weight in insects each night! By protecting their crops and plants from insect pests, bats save farmers and forest managers billions of dollars each year. And yet bats still get a bad rap.

So I set out to change that.

My Bat Week open house events lasted two days and took flight with 10 interactive stations, each educating on bats or cave ecology, along with a conservation message. Some of the stations included: What’s Your Bat-titude – people guess true or false to common myths and facts about bats, Bat vs. Man – people could test their strengths like wing beats and eating ability to those of bats from around the world, and (the most popular station) a giant inflatable Bat Cave – aspiring bat biologists imitated spelunking while learning the importance of cave ecosystems.


AFHA AmeriCorps member answering bat questions inside the bat cave. Credit: Craig Stihler/WVDNR


AFHA AmeriCorps member talking to kids inside bat cave. Credit: Craig Stihler/WVDNR

Over 250 people came out to learn about bat adaptations, create batty crafts, and win bat inspired prizes! Craig Stihler, West Virginia DNR endangered species biologist gave insightful short talks about the importance of bats in our local ecosystem, along with conservation strategies community members could implement on their private property. After hearing the bat talks and walking through the exhibits, the kids had a few things to say…

“Bats are so cute I just want to cuddle them all!” – 6-year-old girl in a Batman outfit

“I don’t like bats, but they can hang around and eat the mosquitoes.” – 10-year-old boy who is still on the fence about bats

“Do bats have cars inside the cave?” – curious 5-year-old girl

“Would I really have to eat 145 Big Macs to eat as much as a bat?” – unconvinced 14-year-old

Many of the adults who came to the event commented that when they were younger they would see bats everywhere, and now that’s not the case. The concerned locals came to the events to see what was happening to the bat population and how they could help bring back the natural bug repellent to their properties. By the time the attendees walked out the doors, they had a better appreciation for the winged mammals of the night.


AmeriCorps member helping with making bat masks. Credit: Craig Stihler/WVDNR


AFHA AmeriCorps member talking to kids about bat sizes. Credit: Craig Stihler/WVDNR

In the end, the participants had a new bat-titude, batty swag, and some lucky raffle winners received bat boxes to install on their property in effort to help conserve these misunderstood creatures of the night. Now, Bat Week can settle down and hibernate till next year!

I would like to thank the people who helped me make this event the success it was.  I could not have pulled it off without the support of my office and my AMAZING volunteers from the West Virginia DNR, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and AFHA AmeriCorps. A special thank you to Cathy and Jim for letting me borrow your bat supplies and to Craig for his wonderful bat talks!


(top left-right: Brooke Andrew, Nicole Sadecky, Jason Aerni, Liza Morse, Mallory Gyovai, Tyler Winstead, Lauren Merrill. bottom left-right: Tom Fletcher, Aeriel Wauhob, Breezey Snyder.)

P.S. Alfred Pennyworth, if you could please come clean up the bat cave I would greatly appreciate it!

Getting on the same bat channel for white-nose syndrome

As we kick off international Bat Week 2015, we hear from Catherine J. Hibbard, a Public Affairs Specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Regional Office in Hadley, Massachusetts. In addition to coordinating white-nose syndrome communications for the Service, she leads a multi-partner White-nose Syndrome Communications and Education Working Group as part of the national response to the disease.

Catherine Hibbard presented a white-nose syndrome communication poster at the North American Joint Bat Working Group meeting.

Here I am with my white-nose syndrome communication poster at the North American Joint Bat Working Group meeting. Credit: USFWS

I’ve been the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s lead communicator for white-nose syndrome for two years now and in that time I’ve seen quite a bit of confusion over bats and white-nose syndrome. Below are three of the most common issues. For more information, see www.whitenosesyndrome.org.

The scientific name of the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome and fungus v. disease.
White-nose syndrome is the name of the disease that some hibernating bats get when exposed to a fungus (not a virus or a bacteria) which was initially called Geomyces destructans. However, in 2013 researchers reclassified it to Pseudogymnoascus destructans. That’s a mouthful, but if you want to be cool at a white-nose syndrome social event or apply for a white-nose syndrome grant, we recommend using the reclassified scientific name!

Not all bats that have this fungus on them are considered to have the disease white-nose syndrome because sometimes they don’t show signs of being sick if the infection hasn’t set in yet. And to make things more confusing, even sick-looking bats can’t be officially “confirmed” with white-nose syndrome unless laboratory results show a certain microscopic pattern of skin damage. Luckily, some kinds of bats do not get sick at all because the fungus doesn’t seem to grow on them.

A cluster of little brown bats hang from a cave ceiling.

Millions of bats have died from white-nose syndrome. This year I was lucky to visit Aeolus Cave in Vermont where some tough little brown bats have survived multiple winters exposed to the disease. Credit: Catherine J. HIbbard/USFWS

By the way, we use “white-nose syndrome” with no capital letters, not “white nose syndrome” and definitely not “white-nosed syndrome”. For social media we use #whitenosesyndrome because #WNS can give you results like the Wrestling News Source.

How white-nose syndrome got here and where it came from.
The first evidence of white-nose syndrome in the U.S. was retrospectively seen in a photo of bats taken in 2006 in a cave near Albany, New York but we don’t really know how it got here and where it came from. Because the spores of the fungus can last a long time, the most plausible explanation of how it got here is that someone accidentally brought spores on their shoes, clothes or gear from somewhere else outside of North America. Exactly where is unknown. So far, the best evidence suggests the fungus may have arrived from somewhere in Europe, but that may change as researchers test other places. A fascinating aspect of this mystery is that the fungus was not even known in other countries until we discovered it right here the United States.

A map showing most of the eastern and midwestern parts of the U.S. affected by white-nose syndrome.

White-nose syndrome is now found in 26 states and 5 Canadian provinces. Another 3 states have discovered the fungus that causes the disease.

“The Cure” for white-nose syndrome: Is there or isn’t there one?
No, not yet in the sense that treated bats will live happily ever after. There are several lines of white-nose syndrome disease treatments being researched. Some have shown encouraging results in the lab and others have even been tested in a limited capacity in the field this year. The problem is that once Pseudogymnoascus destructans becomes established in the environment, each year as bats return to hibernation sites they are likely to be reinfected by the fungus. So, any treatment would probably need to be applied over and over again.

Other challenges are figuring out how to apply treatments to large numbers of bats and making sure that these treatments are safe for them, other animals, the environment and us. We don’t want to create more problems by trying to solve this one. Not to mention that treating bats susceptible to white-nose syndrome may limit the ability of natural selection to favor genes of the few bats that do (yes!) survive white-nose syndrome.Bat Week Logo: has a Bat for the "W" Bat in yellow, week in purple

As you can see, it’s complicated.  No wonder why people get confused! But with research funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our partners, we’ve learned an incredible amount about this awful disease in a very short period of time. Each one of us involved in the international response to white-nose syndrome rides on the hope of promising scientific breakthroughs.  We do this because we think about bats and how important they are to us every day. This week, we invite you to share our passion for bats and learn more about them. Visit www.batweek.org and have a Happy Bat Week!