Tuesday, December 10, 2013
The summer bat survey that has begun in Maine to gauge the health of the state's bat population shows signs of a depleted population.
The survey aims to find and count bats, because state biologists discovered this winter the fungus that causes white-nose bat syndrome has taken hold. Biologists found as few as five bats in two of the three hibernacula they surveyed each winter.
The volunteer bat survey being organized by Maine Audubon will be the telltale sign that bats have left the landscape if volunteers who have seen bats roosting in past years find none.
And that already has happened.
"The interesting thing in the last week, I had a group of volunteers who heard about the study and wanted to be sure to be involved," said Susan Gallo, a Maine Audubon wildlife biologist who is coordinating the volunteer effort. "I sent them an email last week, and three called back and said they had long-standing, long-term colonies and they are gone. Those were a sure thing, and now there is no activity. So I'm a little panicked. Are we too late?"
Gallo said the three lost colonies -- in Sebec, Hampden and Cape Neddick -- make it even more imperative that any interested volunteers who had summering bat colonies in their barns, attics or camps come forward to help document what bats exist in Maine.
The disease first found in Maine last year has depleted bat numbers nationwide. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates as many as 5.5 million bats in North America have died as a result of white-nose syndrome.
And this winter, new signs suggest the disease is spreading. White-nose syndrome was discovered in Missouri, the western-most state with confirmed cases, and in Alabama, marking the furthest south the disease had spread.
In addition, this winter two new bat species were found to have the disease, including the federally listed gray bat, which brings the total to seven species, according to the service.
"That's a big deal, now we have two (endangered species): the gray bat and the Indiana bat," said Ann Froschauer, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson in Hadley, Mass.
Froschauer hopes the new survey offers the first solution to help the bat populations recover.
"We think this is important as we move forward after the disease is confirmed. One of the things we need to do is assess and protect habitat that the bats are using in the summer to give them the best possible chance to reproduce, feed and be healthy," Froschauer said.
The survey needs to be done at two times: Between now and June 24, when the female bats have their pups, and again starting around July 7, when the pups start leaving the roost. Any sites that show twice as many bats the second time indicates the female bats successfully had pups and there is a healthy population there.
Bats are found statewide in Maine.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: