Bats are gone for the winter and their whereabouts is unknown on Southern Vancouver Island, say researchers.
Biologists are requesting reports from citizens of bats found hibernating in caves or human structures during the cold season.
“For Southern Vancouver Island, our local bats are often found by landowners in barns, attics, or other small spaces as summer roosting habitat between May and October” said Paige Erickson-McGee, stewardship coordinator at Habitat Acquisition Trust.
“Come fall as the temperature cools, the number of bats slowly dwindles and where they fly to overwinter is unknown for our region.”
Biologists from Habitat Acquisition Trust, also known as HAT, have been responding to public reports of roosting bats over the summer, assisting residents with bat house installations and providing information about managing the land or structures for bats.
Why are bats taking shelter in human-built structures?
The primary reason is a loss of natural roosting habitat in the form of large old hollow trees. Many of these trees are removed during development or cleared in parks as a safety precaution to avoid injury by falling trees.
In the winter, local bats have been reported to hibernate in caves or abandoned mines, but specific locations on Southern Vancouver Island are unknown.
The little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) was emergency listed as endangered on the federal Species at Risk Act in 2014 because of sudden and dramatic declines across the eastern portions of the ranges.
These declines are the direct result of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has killed millions of bats in eastern North America during their winter hibernation. It is not known to exist in bat colonies west of the Rockies, but may arrive in B.C. during the next five to 10 years.
One of the first steps to better understand bat behaviour is to determine habitat use in the winter.
By locating the winter hibernation sites, biologists hope to determine how to protect them from disease and how to help populations survive should disease arrive.
South Island residents are urged to contact HAT at the B.C. Community Bat Program Hotline: 1-855-922-2287 (Ext. 12) if bats are recently seen hibernating in the winter.
Information of particular importance is the location of winter bat roosting sites and unusual behaviour such as flying during the day.
“Programs like the B.C. Community Bat Program have been in place to collect information from the public on bat populations in B.C. with the intention of aiding in the conservation of bats and their habitats” said Juliet Craig, coordinator of the B.C. Community Bat Program.
“Reports from citizen scientists about bat hibernacula are extremely important for bat conservation in the province.