The Little Brown Myotis occurs across British Columbia but is threatened by white-nose syndrome, a bat disease. (Photo by B. Paterson)

Provincial bat count to monitor for impacts of white-nose syndrome

Almost half of British Columbia’s bat species are now at risk

A provincewide bat count will monitor the number of Little Brown Myotis bats.

While the bat species is one of the most familiar in buildings and bat boxes, the Little Brown Myotis is endangered in Canada. In British Columbia, almost half of the province’s 15 bat species are at risk.

The bat is an essential part of the province’s ecology, consuming many insects each night.

The B.C. Annual Bat Count program is asking for colony reports and volunteer assistance in counting bats at local root sites in June.

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“The counts are a wonderful way for people to get outside, respect social distancing guidelines, and be involved in collecting important scientific information,” said biologist Ella Braden, coordinator of the Okanagan Community Bat Program.

Volunteers wait outside a known roost site, such as a bat-box, barn, or attic, and count bats as they fly out at twilight. Ideally, one to two counts are done between June 1 and 21, before pups are born, and one to two more between July 11 and Aug. 5, when pups are flying.

In 2020, the bat count collected baseline data on bat populations at 362 sites across the province and hopes to monitor these sites and more for 2021. The count data helps bat biologists understand bat distribution and normal variation in colony sizes before our bats face impacts from a devastating bat disease called White-nose Syndrome.

White-nose Syndrome is an introduced fungal disease, fatal for bats but doesn’t infect other animals or humans. While it has not been identified in British Columbia, the disease is spreading in Washington State, less than 150 kilometres from the border with British Columbia.

“We know relatively little about bats in B.C., including basic information on population numbers,” Braden said. “This information is more valuable than ever, particularly if it is collected annually. If people want to get involved but don’t have a roost site on their property, we will try to match them with a roost site nearby.”

The Annual Bat Counts are funded by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C., the Habitat Stewardship Program and the South Okanagan Conservation Foundation, and with support of the B.C. Conservation Foundation and the provincial government.

The B.C. Community Bat Program provides information for people dealing with bat issues on their property or who have questions about how to attract bats. To find out more about bat counts or white-nose syndrome, to report a dead bat, or to get assistance dealing with bat issues, visit www.bcbats.ca, call 1-855-9BC-BATS, ext. 13 or email okanaganbats@gmail.com.

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