The New Brunswick government is asking the public to be on the lookout for day-flying bats during the winter as it continues to study a deadly bat fungus.
Day-flying by bats during the hibernation period of November to May is considered abnormal activity and may indicate that an infected hibernation site is nearby, according to a statement issued by the Department of Natural Resources on Wednesday.
The department is working with the New Brunswick Museum to track the spread of white-nose syndrome across the province and to understand the impact of the disease on the province's bat populations.
Anyone who sees bats flying during the day, or dying or dead bats — all possible cases of the disease — is asked to call the department's Fish and Wildlife Branch, Species at Risk Program at 506-453-3826, or Don McAlpine, a zoologist at the museum, at 506-643-2345.
The public is also asked to avoid entering caves and abandoned mines that are known to be overwintering sites for bats because such visits could unknowingly spread the disease from one site to another, officials said.
White-nose syndrome was first detected in New Brunswick in a cave in Albert County, near Moncton, in March 2011 and has quickly spread, wiping out entire bat colonies across the Maritimes.
The problem is infected bats wake early from hibernation and appear to die from dehydration, starvation, or exposure, officials have said.
It is estimated New Brunswick's overwintering bat population has dropped by about 99 per cent due to the syndrome.
The little brown bat is the principal bat that has been affected.
The disease, named for the white patches that appear on the muzzles and other body parts of hibernating bats, was first detected near Albany, N.Y. in 2006.
It's believed to have come to North America from Europe.
Bats can live between 30 and 35 years and have a relatively low birth rate, with only one offspring born every year, so it could take many years for the population to recover, scientists have said.
The declining bat population is a serious problem because bats are a natural form of pest control, officials have said.
If there aren't enough bats to eat insects and help control insect populations, that could have a serious impact on farming, pesticide use, and the price of food.