A biologist with the University of Winnipeg is installing 20 boxes across Ontario to try and save bats from a deadly fungus called white-nose syndrome, a disease that eats away at the bats while they hibernate.

Two of the boxes were recently installed in Sudbury where the syndrome is known to exist.

Biologist Kaleigh Norquay, who works out of the Craig Willis Bat Lab, says white-nose syndrome is a cold-loving disease that eats into their wing tissue. It causes the bats to warm up every two or three days to try and fight what is happening to them.

The end result is that they come out of hibernation too early, in very poor condition, and often die.

Norquay said the fungus is also very bad for their reproductive health, as it is the time of year when the females are pregnant.

"The females often have to spent so much energy, just recovering from their own illness, that they are not able to maintain a pregnancy."

Biologist Kaleigh Norquay

Biologist Kaleigh Norquay installs a heated bat box on a house in Sudbury. (Chris Blomme)

In late May, when bats leave the caves, Norquay hopes the bats will use her heated bat boxes when looking for a warm place to recover. The box is kept at 30 C, using a heating coil similar to what one would use in a terrarium to heat up a lizard.

"They will be able to find these boxes that provide a nice, stable climate for them to stay pregnant and raise their young in," she said.

Bats are tracked

To measure the success of the pilot project, Norquay said she is putting drop sheets underneath the boxes to collect bat feces. The droppings will be tested for the hormone cortisol to see how stressed the bats are.

She will also visit the colonies in June and July to microchip the bats and put a detector on the bat box to see how often they are using it. She will then do a colony count before and after the bats have their babies to see how many young have survived said Norquay.

Six million bats have died so far from this fungus, which is believed to come from Europe said Norquay. Bats in that regions are not affected by the syndrome.

"What we are hoping to show ... by providing bats with really a high-quality habitat we can improve survival."

The pilot project is being funded by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

For information on from citizens on where bat populations are located from what to do if a bat gets into your house, just visit batwatch.ca.

Heated bat box installed on a home in Sudbury

A total of 20 bat boxes are being installed across Ontario. (Chris Blomme)