From The Associated Press
ST. LOUIS —
Biologists are tracking the Indiana bat this summer at sites in Missouri and Illinois, hoping to gather information that they can use to help boost the endangered species.
The bat hibernates in caves in the winter and summers in forested areas, most frequently in the central United States.
But there is a new concern, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. White-nose syndrome has killed more than 6 million bats in four Canadian provinces and 19 U.S. states since it was first detected in 2006 in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. In April, the disease was documented in Missouri — the first confirmed case west of the Mississippi River.
The disease could spell trouble for the Indiana bat. The tracking effort is being led by Army Corps of Engineers officials, who hope to turn around the population decline.
“We haven’t had white nose in the Indiana bat’s range for many years yet, so we don’t know what their declines are going to be like,” said Janet Tyburec, 45, a biologist for Bat Conservation and Management Inc. of Carlisle, Pa., who is helping the corps study the bat.
In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated the Indiana bat population at 387,000, less than half the number when the species was listed as endangered in 1967.
Tyburec and other biologists are spending time on Chouteau Island in the Mississippi River near St. Louis. They also plan visits to sites in Pike County, Mo., Calhoun County, Ill., and Jersey County, Ill.
“Let’s say we find the bats in a nice cottonwood patch, since they like to roost under the sloughing bark,” said Ben McGuire, 26, a wildlife biologist with the corps. “If the cottonwood patch is fairly young, we can go in there and do some supplemental plantings so there’s a diverse community for them.”
One evening last week, Tyburec and field technician Brenna Long, 27, used pulleys attached to metal poles to hoist three braided nylon nets 27 feet high in hopes of capturing bats for the study, positioning them between two ponds.
“Bats like to drink out of pooled water, not rushing water,” Tyburec said. “And one of the first things they do every night is go get a drink.”
A short time later they found several bats ensnared in the nets, although the species wasn’t the one they sought. These were big browns, a majority of them lactating females.
Still, they were examined. At the processing station, Long pulled on fresh surgical-type gloves over thicker ones as she measured the bats’ forearms, their weight and record their gender and reproductive conditions before releasing them.
Tyburec and Long said they previously had been bitten. As a precaution, they had gotten pre-exposure rabies shots and regular boosters.
“Rabies is always fatal, so taking a risk is just not worth it,” Tyburec said.
Indiana bats have been losing summer habitat because of urbanization and forestry practices. A slow reproductive cycle is compounding the problem, Tyburec said. The females generally have one baby a year. The young take about two years to reach sexual maturity, and first-year young have about a 50 percent mortality rate.
“It’s really tough to be a bat,” Tyburec said.