Bats suffering from a mysterious condition called “white nose syndrome” have been found in Ontario, and researchers are trying to figure out what is happening.
Five years ago in upstate New York, bats started dying from white nose syndrome, so named because of a fungus that grows on the affected bats. The disease now has killed more than one million bats in eastern North America.
The syndrome was detected in Ontario in March 2010. It has been confirmed at seven sites in central and north-eastern Ontario.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Canadian Cooperative Health Centre continue to monitor the spread of the disease and determine its impact on Ontario’s bats. While the number of bat deaths has been low in Ontario to date, researchers are concerned about the potential negative impact the syndrome could have on bats in this province.
The public can help protect bats by staying away from sites where bats hibernate, and by reporting any unusual bat behaviour, such as daytime flying, or deaths.
White nose syndrome has been linked to a fungus that grows on bats while they hibernate in natural caves and abandoned mines. The fungus seems to irritate and cause bats to awaken, so they use their winter fat stores more quickly. They may leave hibernation sites and fly around outside, often in the daytime, when it’s still winter and where there are no food sources available.
Entering caves or abandoned mines may disturb hibernating bats and reduce their ability to survive the winter. The public is encouraged to stay out entirely or avoid entering natural caves or abandoned mines where bats may be hibernating.
If you see bats flying during the daytime in winter, or you see dead bats, please contact the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at 1-866-673-4781 or the Natural Resources Information Centre at 1-800-667-1940.
Do not touch bats — alive or dead — as they can carry rabies.
• Bats are the only mammal that can fly. As early as three weeks old they are able to fly and find their own food.
• Bats eat insects — lots of them. One bat can consume thousands of flying insects each night during the summer.
• Bats navigate and locate food by using echolocation. They send out signals and when the echoes bounce back, the bats can identify where objects are located.
• Bats are an important part of Ontario’s biodiversity. Eight different species of bats are found in this province; little brown and big brown bats are the most common. The bats that are affected by white nose syndrome hibernate in caves, while other species fly as far as South America for our winter.