Pennsylvania bat count is underway

The Pennsylvania Game Commission wants you to help count bats in the state.

The White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) is a cold-loving fungus that only affects hibernating bats in the winter, growing on their noses and wing membranes, according to the PGC. Exactly how the fungus kills is not known, but it is known that infected bats are aroused from their hibernation, using fat and energy reserves necessary to keep them alive.

Carl Roe, PGC executive director, said, “To date, no dead bats have been found in Pennsylvania. That’s a plus, but it comes with no promise of what will or won’t follow. In New York and New England, the disorder seems to arouse bats from hibernation prematurely. Once they depart from caves and mines, they quickly sap their energy reserves and die on the landscape. Mortality in some colonies has exceeded 90 percent, ensuring that any local recovery will be quite lengthy given the low reproductive rate of bats. Little brown and the federally-endangered Indiana bats produce only one young per year.”

New York and New England have lost perhaps hundreds of thousands of bats to WNS over the past two years. Significant losses to bat populations could have ecological consequences because of the role that bats play in the environment. Across Pennsylvania, bats eat tractor-trailer-sized loads of insects on summer nights, making residents’ backyards more bearable and crop yields more bountiful, according to Greg Turner, a biologist with the Game Commission’s Wildlife Diversity Section.

“Of course, there’s also the possibility that bats have been or are being poisoned somehow,” Turner said. “The source could vary: insecticides, herbicides, livestock supplements, changes in the composition of building materials, even changes in air and water quality. That’s what makes this whole search so open-ended. But, to date, the disorder is found only in America’s northeast, so it would appear the source is here, too. That’s a solid lead, if it is something like a toxin.”

Nate Zalik, a PGC wildlife biologist, said, “Pennsylvanians can help us more fully gauge the impact of WNS on bats by hosting a bat count this summer. We are especially urging people who have conducted a bat count for the Game Commission in the past to redo a count this year.

Collin Koers, forest ecologist for the Allegheny National Forest (ANF) said, “The ANF is an active participant in the Volunteer Summer Bat Roost Survey, the Appalachian Bat Count. This year, we’ll monitor 13 structures (including) buildings, bat condos, and bat boxes at 8 different sites. Condos can hold upward of 5,000 bats while boxes are constructed with a capacity closer to 250. Some sites have been monitored as early as 1995, like the Hall Barn, while two condos (that) were installed within the last year and will be monitored for the first time this July.

The Hall Barn site includes a barn and a bat condo and annually produces the largest emergence count for the ANF. The peak count at the Hall Barn came in 2009 when just over 3,300 bats were viewed pouring out from the barn and condo at dusk. Since then, emergence count numbers at the Hall Barn site have trended downward and ANF biologists are anxious to see if this year’s count rebounds or whether the effect of White Nose Syndrome has taken hold in northwest Pennsylvania. Of the four-county area that holds the ANF, WNS was first suspected in Warren and Forest county in March 2012 and then confirmed in July 2012. WNS is not yet suspected in McKean and Elk County.

“Pennsylvania’s two most common bat species, the little brown bat and the big brown bat use buildings as their summer roosts,” Zalik added. “Abandoned houses, barns church steeples… even currently occupied structures can provide a summer home to female bats and their young.

“Monitoring these ‘maternal colonies’ can give biologists a good idea of how bat populations in an area are doing from year to year.”

Zalik noted that the fieldwork isn’t difficult to do, and Pennsylvanians can play a huge role in helping the PGC get a better understanding of what is happening to bats this summer.

Jen Moore, park naturalist at Chapman State Park is planning on participating in the bat count. She said, “This year will be my first year. We will do a counts on June 29 and July 19. I put up (bat) boxes last year, with the help of about 30 volunteers. The count is posted on our program list, and I have contacts with the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.” She added that a park visitor had reported a bat that flew into the lake, and when she investigated the bat had returned to the shore, and it flew into a tree. She didn’t notice any white on the bat, and she said it seemed healthy.

To obtain applications and information on how to participate, visit the PGC’s website and put the cursor over wildlife, click on wildlife in the drop-down menu and choose Pennsylvania bats in the wild mammals section and click on Appalachian bat count. Forms on the website guide interested participants through the steps of timing conducting a survey and submitting findings to the PGC.

Individuals, organizations and clubs are encouraged to participate.