Tag Archives: northern long-eared bat

In the quest to study bats on Long Island

Last year, biologists at Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex in New York conducted a survey to determine which bat species call Long Island home. 

As the summer sun set and people wound down from a long day of work, a team of biologists from the Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex and the Biodiversity Research Institute were only just beginning their workday. They walked quietly down refuge roads and trails carrying ropes, poles, and reams of mesh as fine as a hair net. The only light came from their bright headlamps. The biologists were on an important 10-day mission: catching bats.

The health of every bat species is important, but biologists were specifically interested in confirming the presence of the federally threatened northern long-eared bat. “We wanted to locate potential maternity colonies and roost sites on the refuges so we can protect them and appropriately manage the habitats they use,” said Camille Sims, the wildlife technician.

To survey bats, refuge staff and BRI scientists used a technique known as mist netting. Camille Sims, the wildlife technician, describes the mist net as as undetectable, fine netting that acts like an invisible volley ball net, gently capturing bats while they search for food. The nets are monitored continuously from dusk until midnight.

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Here you can see what a mist net looks like. Photo by: Dyan Bone, Credit: U.S. Forest Service

“We checked the nets every 10 minutes for bats that may have been captured,” Sims said. “As bats fly down roads and trails where the nets are set up, they hit the net and drop into a small pocket. When we find a bat, we lower the net and gently untangle the bat to retrieve it from the net.”

The biologists weighed the bats, measured their forearms and ears, determined their gender, age, species and reproductive status.  Each bat was also fitted with an identification band and wings were examined for signs of white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal disease that has devastated bat populations across North America.

Upon completions, bats were safely released back into the night sky.

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This little brown bat may look uncomfortable but using a net is a safe and effective way for biologists to catch passing bats. Credit: Ann Froschauer/USFWS

During the 10-day mist netting surveys at two refuges within the Complex — Wertheim and Elizabeth A. Morton — the team of scientists caught 5 eastern red bats and 26 big brown bats at Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge and one eastern red bat and one northern long-eared bat at Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge. The northern long-eared bat also received a radio transmitter to track its location.

The biological team found no evidence of white-nose syndrome during the summer surveys, but they remained alert for signs of the disease. The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome mostly affects bats during the winter, but scarring on the wings and remnant traces of the fungus can be detected in the summer. The team at the Complex doesn’t know where their bats hibernate, but northern long-eared bats have been found overwintering on Long Island in crawl spaces under buildings.

In 2015 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the northern long-eared bat as threatened, primarily due to the threat of white-nose syndrome. In the Northeast region alone, the species has declined by up to 99 percent from pre-white-nose syndrome levels at many hibernation sites.

“As someone who cares about wildlife, I am concerned about it [white-nose syndrome] and I wouldn’t want the disease to spread to the bat populations here on Long Island, so I think it’s great news that we haven’t found signs of the disease here,” said Sims.

After many long nights, the summer surveys were completed and the team could catch up on some much needed sleep – knowing that no evidence of white-nose syndrome was found in the bats they documented on Long Island.

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The surveys mentioned in the blog were conducted from June to July 2017 at Wertheim and Elizabeth Morton National Wildlife Refugess. The Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex uses information gathered during the surveys to determine which bat species call the refuge home and identify habitat-use during migration and breeding seasons. This information is important for species protection and best habitat management practices.

To learn more:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Midwest Region Endangered Species profile on Northern long-eared bat: https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/mammals/nleb/index.html

White-nose syndrome: https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org

Today you're hearing from Alyssa Bennett of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. Here she and Joel Flewelling, also from the state agency, carefully measure a little brown bat to assess its health. Credit: USFWS

Signs of hope amidst the Northeast’s great bat recession

Today you're hearing from Alyssa Bennett of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. Here she and Joel Flewelling, also from the state agency, carefully measure a little brown bat to assess its health. Credit: USFWS

Today you’re hearing from Alyssa Bennett (left) of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. Here she and Joel Flewelling, also from the state agency, carefully measure a little brown bat to assess its health. This post comes from the White-Nose Syndrome blog. Credit: USFWS

When trying to explain how white-nose syndrome (WNS) continues to affect Vermont’s cave bats, I sometimes compare it to the Great Depression [of the bat world].

After the stock market crash in 1929, the recession in the U.S. spread to other countries, just as WNS has spread from the northeastern U.S. into five Canadian provinces and continues to move south and west each winter into the 26 states where the disease or the causative fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, has been found.

Despite fluctuations and hopes of recovery, the Great Depression lasted over a decade and was global in impact. If you think the 10 percent unemployment rate of the 2008 recession was bad, consider unemployment rates of 25 percent during the Great Depression. Now try to picture unemployment rates of 90 percent, the percentage of cave bats that have died in the Northeast from white-nose syndrome.

A now rare northern long-eared bat captured during a fall swarm survey in southern Vermont. How can you help but love that face? Credit: Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department

A now rare northern long-eared bat captured during a fall swarm survey in southern Vermont. How can you help but love that face? Credit: Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department

The crisis in our bat population is not a minor or momentary slump. After the initial shock of the 2008 recession wore off, I remembered people starting to ask “Is the economy recovering yet?” Although the Dow Jones Industrial Average eventually recovered, as economies continue to grow, many companies did not.

White-nose syndrome has not affected all bats equally. Some species, such as the big brown bat, appear to be doing OK, so I am confident these heroes of WNS will continue to grace the night sky. But for a few species now listed as endangered in Vermont, including the little brown, northern long-eared, and tri-colored bats, declines have been as devastating as bankruptcy and recovery is in no way guaranteed.

Endangered means that a species is at risk of extinction. Extinction means GONE FOREVER. Remember the passenger pigeon? There is no bailout option for extinction.

A small cluster of hibernating little brown bats. Credit: Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department

A small cluster of hibernating little brown bats. Credit: Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department

Yet even in the face of such drastic declines, we are beginning to see hope here in Vermont. Although bats were still found dying in our largest hibernation cave this winter, the initial 90 percent mortality rate has slowed significantly, and some individuals are surviving multiple winters at infected sites. Summer colonies of little brown bats that used to contain hundreds or even thousands of bats, described as “clouds of bats” by homeowners at dusk, are now completely vacant in the eastern part of the state.

Yet in the rich habitat of the Champlain Valley, small remnant colonies are hanging on. At one such site, a colony containing around 650 bats before WNS is now fighting to survive with less than 100 remaining.

Do these survivors have a genetically-based advantage that can be passed on to the next generation? We are cooperating with researchers from around the country to find out. Even if so, do Vermont’s six cave-dwelling species have enough of a population left to make it in the long run? Only time will tell. The northern long-eared bat has been proposed for listing as federally endangered due to 98 percent declines region-wide.

Every bat biologist out there would love to give a breaking story about bats recovering, but I cannot let my hopeful nature mislead you. Bats are still very much in trouble and they very much need our help. Although we don’t yet have a way to prevent the mass mortality caused by WNS, we can continue to use one of the most powerful human tools we have for conservation: education. There are a limited number of bat biologists and researchers working on the disease, but there are hundreds of thousands of people living in close proximity to bats in the U.S. alone. We can help protect the remaining 10 percent of our cave bats from other threats through education.

A banded little brown bat. The small wing band is used to uniquely mark an individual so that it can be identified if it is observed again in the future. Credit: Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department

A banded little brown bat. The small wing band is used to uniquely mark an individual so that it can be identified if it is observed again in the future. Credit: Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department

It’s amazing to see the look of fear on someone’s face change to empathy when they learn that most of the species affected by WNS have only one young per year and are more closely related to you and I than they are to mice. Now add in their economic value as agricultural and human pest eaters (bats can eat half their weight in insects per night) and soon you have everyone’s interest, not just wildlife enthusiasts. We can use education to minimize direct persecution, habitat loss, and the many other threats that bats face. Vermont’s cave bats have no hope of “recovering” in our lifetimes to the numbers we once saw, but we can make sure that each and every one counts and hope that is just enough to keep them around in the long run.

Thank you for helping. You really do make a difference.

This post comes from the White-Nose Syndrome blog – check out the website to learn the latest in the WNS response!

Happy 40th, Endangered Species Act!

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We know… 40th birthdays are branded as “over the hill.”

But when it comes to the Endangered Species Act, we just don’t agree (that’s not saying we agree that other 40th birthdays are over the hill, either!). With much of its work just getting started, the Endangered Species Act is much more “40 and fierce.”

Endangered species recovery is complex and difficult work, often requiring substantial time and resources. Just as it takes a long time for species to reach the brink of extinction, it takes a long time to bring them back. Many of the endangered species that have fully recovered were the original species protected under the ESA.

Forty years of hard, dedicated work by federal and state agencies, state and local governments, conservation organizations and private citizens have reaped much success for threatened and endangered wildlife.

We’ve got a lot to be proud of. As we near the anniversary on Friday, we’re celebrating the wildlife that has benefited from the protection of one of the world’s most important conservation laws.

Here are some Northeast state-by-state snapshots (click the links for stories).

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Endangered roseate terns. Habitat for northeastern U.S. roseate terns has been greatly reduced by human activity and development on barrier islands, predation and competition from expanding numbers of large gulls. Credit: USFWS

CONNECTICUT provides homes to nearly 20 imperiled species, from the roseate tern to the bog turtle and Indiana bat. A portion of Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge has protected threatened tiger beetles (and migrating songbirds); restoration of Long Beach West returned the barrier beach to the threatened piping plover and other shorebirds; and a team is watching over one of the last remaining healthy populations of the endangered dwarf wedgemussel, found in the Lower Farmington River.

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A loggerhead hatchling emerges from its nest and begins its seaward journey. The greatest cause of decline and the continuing primary threat to loggerhead turtle populations worldwide is incidental capture in fishing gear, primarily in longlines and gillnets, but also in trawls, traps and pots, and dredges. Credit: USFWS

DELAWARE provides homes to over 15 imperiled species, from the swamp pink lily to the shortnose sturgeon and nesting loggerhead sea turtles. Biologists translocated endangered Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrels to Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, and just last year, our analysis showed the species has recovered and suggested removing it from the endangered species list! The Delaware Bay is arguably the most important spring stopover for one of the longest-distance migrants in the entire animal kingdom, the red knot. We proposed to protect the knot as threatened under the ESA, and the Delaware conservation community is out to ensure the Bay continues to provide that crucial place for resting and feeding.

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This photo of a Canada lynx kitten is from den surveys conducted by our agency and Maine Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in the boreal forests of northern Maine. Credit: USFWS

MAINE also provides homes to over 15 imperiled species, from the Furbish’s lousewort plant to the Canada lynx and spawning Atlantic sturgeon.  Maine’s only cottontail, the New England cottontail, is a candidate under review for endangered species protection, and Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, along with other partners and private landowners, is restoring its young forest habitat. Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery has cultured Atlantic salmon for over a century, and partnering organizations are working on restoring the free-flowing rivers, such as the Penobscot, on which endangered salmon depend.

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The greatest threats to the bog turtle are the loss, degradation and fragmentation of its habitat from wetland alteration, development, pollution, invasive species and advanced plant growth. The species is also threatened by poaching—collection for illegal wildlife trade. Credit: USFWS

MARYLAND provides homes to more than 25 imperiled species, from the Maryland darter to the sandplain gerardia plant and Kenk’s ampipod. Landowners have partnered with our agency and the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service to improve their wetlands for North America’s tiniest turtle, the threatened bog turtle. In 1967, when the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel was listed, it could be found in only a handful of counties in the state, and after officials closed the hunting season and re-introduced it to several large farms, populations began to thrive! The Puritan tiger beetle has only four populations, one which is on eroding cliffs in Calvert County and another along the Sassafras River. An interagency team and federal grant funding has made substantial progress in meeting the needs of landowners while promoting the species recovery.

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Piping plovers were common along the Atlantic Coast during much of the 19th century, but nearly disappeared due to excessive hunting for the millinery trade. Following passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, numbers recovered to a 20th-century peak in the 1940s. The current population decline is attributed to increased development and recreational use of beaches since the end of World War II. Credit: Diane Fletcher, Friends of Ellisville Marsh

MASSACHUSETTS provides homes to 20 imperiled species, from the northern red-bellied cooter to the roseate tern and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Friends of Ellisville Marsh have provided a community model to protect piping plovers, and volunteers like Judy Besancon on Newbury Beach keep an eye on plover nests. Every year, volunteers scan the Cape Cod beaches to save stranded, endangered sea turtles. Populations of the state’s only native rabbit, the New England cottontail, have dwindled as its young, regenerating forest habitat has disappeared. Experts are using controlled burns to restore this early stage of forest in places like Mashpee.

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The Karner blue butterfly, an endangered species, is a small butterfly that lives in oak savannas and pine barren ecosystems from eastern Minnesota and eastward to the Atlantic seaboard. Habitat throughout the range of the Karner blue has been lost through human activity to suppress wildfire, cultivate forests and develop communities. Credit: USFWS

NEW HAMPSHIRE provides homes to nearly 15 imperiled species, from the northeastern bulrush to the Karner blue butterfly and red knot. A strong partnership to protect habitat and rear seeds in captivity kept the quarter-sized Robbins’ cinquefoil flower from extinction and ensured its future on the slopes of the White Mountains. In areas across southern New Hampshire, efforts are underway to conserve the natural habitat of the region’s only native rabbit, the New England cottontail. Much of the life history of the endangered small whorled pogonia remains a mystery, but recent efforts in New Hampshire have clued biologists in to this rare woodland orchid’s specific habitat needs.

Tagged red knot. Mispillion Harbor, Delaware. Credit: Gregory Breese/USFWS

Some red knots migrate up to 9,300 miles one way, from the southern tip of South America, along the U.S. coast and up to the Canadian Arctic. Changing climate conditions are already affecting the bird’s food supply, the timing of its migration and its breeding habitat in the Arctic. The shorebird also is losing areas along its range due to sea level rise, shoreline projects, and development. Credit: Gregory Breese/USFWS

NEW JERSEY provides homes to over 20 imperiled species, from the Hirst brothers’ panic grass to the red knot and the Knieskern’s beaked-rush plant. In 1993, biologists confirmed a newly discovered colony of endangered Indiana bats in an abandoned mine near Hibernia, and surveys at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge have helped us understand the impacts of white-nose syndrome on the species. New Jersey almost lost its bald eagle population by 1980, but state and federal wildlife agencies creatively put the eagle on the road to recovery. Law enforcement have helped protect threatened bog turtles through investigation of ESA violations, and partnerships with private landowners and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service have improved and protected their unique wetland habitat.

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The bald eagle holds the greatest endangered species success story, recovering from 417 nesting pairs in 1963 to more than 10,000 nesting pairs today. Credit: USFWS

NEW YORK provides homes to nearly 30 imperiled species, from the Houghton’s goldenrod plant to the clubshell mussel and (recently proposed for ESA protection) northern long-eared bat. Researchers are finding ways to cultivate the threatened American hart’s-tongue fern in the lab and plant them at suitable sites in New York, home to the largest population of this fern in the entire country! It’s not easy to love a rattlesnake (though we do!), but the eastern massasauga’s numbers here have dwindled. Biologists are returning what it needs most — a home. The Albany Pine Bush Preserve, National Grid, our agency and the state wildlife agency have come together to protect habitat for the endangered Karner blue butterfly (the Preserve releases captive-bred butterflies, too!). Last, certainly the tiniest and most difficult to pronounce but not least, is the Chittenango ovate amber snail. Partners are keeping an eye on the only known living population of this snail.

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Kind of looks like a face, right? The threatened small whorled pogonia is one of the nation’s rarest native orchids. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons, NC Orchid

PENNSYLVANIA provides homes to more than 15 imperiled species, from the Virginia spiraea plant to the sheepnose and snuffbox freshwater mussels. Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge was established, in part, to protect threatened bog turtles and their habitat; this year, a natural resource damages settlement helped add 90 acres to the refuge! Additionally, a voluntary program helps landowners restore their wetlands with bog turtle habitat. Our Northeast Fishery Center scientists are following endangered Atlantic sturgeon in hopes of protecting and restoring their habitat. Last year, we worked with Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and other folks to replace a bridge and transplant the protected mussels in Illinois, Ohio and West Virginia waters.

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The New England cottontail, New England’s only native rabbit, is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The species has declined primarily due to loss of its young forest and shrubland habitat. Credit: USFWS

RHODE ISLAND provides homes to nearly 15 imperiled species, from the sandplain gerardia plant to the shortnose sturgeon and foraging leatherback sea turtles. The Roger Williams Park Zoo runs captive breeding programs for both the New England cottontail and American burying beetle, whose last remaining wild beetle population in New England is on Block Island. Avalonia Land Conservancy, our agency and locals have found a way to balance recreational use and conservation of threatened piping plovers and other shorebirds at Sandy Point Island.

The Jesup's milk vetch. Credit: Lisa Mattei, New England Wild Flower Society

The Jesup’s milk vetch is found in only three locations along the Connecticut River in New Hampshire and Vermont. Credit: Lisa Mattei, New England Wild Flower Society

VERMONT provides homes to six imperiled species, including the dwarf wedgemussel, the northeastern bulrush plant and the (recently proposed for ESA protection) northern long-eared bat. What were threatened Canada lynx doing in Vermont last year? Biologists are surveying for these secretive creatures to understand the best ways to conserve the species. Ice, floods, drought, and invasions–and the endangered Jesup’s milk-vetch hangs on, thanks to a helping hand from wildlife agencies and partners. In 2001, biologists found that Indiana bats come from New York to summer in the Lake Champlain Valley; this information would become vital when white-nose syndrome hit years later.

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Endangered mussels bound for release in the Powell River. Credit: Gary Peeples/USFWS

VIRGINIA provides homes to more than 70 imperiled species, from the Virginia sneezeweed to the spruce-fire moss spider and Carolina northern flying squirrel. The yellowfin madtom was thought to be extinct here; after its rediscovery, biologists set out to ensure its future in the state, and its range in one river may now extend more than 60 miles! Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge has supported nesting sea turtles for 30 years on the shore of Virginia Beach. The Madison cave isopod isn’t cute and fluffy, but protecting this crustacean has meant safeguarding our water supply. In September 2010, biologists, students and other volunteers put on the largest release of endangered mussels to date in the eastern U.S. (and the work continues!).

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The entire range of the threatened Cheat Mountain salamander is 935 square miles, the approximate area of Kanawha County in West Virginia. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons, Kerry Wixted

WEST VIRGINIA provides homes to more than 20 imperiled species, from the shale barren rock cress plant to to the pink mucket mussel and Virginia big-eared bat. Remember those mussels that were moved to West Virginia from a Pennsylvania bridge project? They included the endangered northern riffleshell. We worked with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources to install a bat-friendly gate on Trout Cave, a hotspot for hibernating endangered Virginia big-eared bats. We’re also part of the Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative, which continues to restore the high-elevation red spruce habitat needed by the threatened Cheat Mountain salamander and recovered West Virginia northern flying squirrel.

Whew! Like, we said, a lot to be proud of! And we’re gearing up for a whole suite of efforts in 2014.

Forty and fierce, definitely.