New Brunswick

Researchers want to find New Brunswick's surviving bats, and they need your help

Researchers from the New Brunswick Museum are asking people to alert them if they see bats in the province.

Museum wants to study bats that have lived through white-nose syndrome

Don McAlpine, pictured here in 2018, needs the public's help looking for bats in New Brunswick as he studies possible solutions for white-nose syndrome. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Researchers from the New Brunswick Museum are asking people to alert them if they see bats in the province.

Attics, barns and bat houses are places where New Brunswickers might spot the few flying friends that are left in the province, said Don McAlpine, the museum's curator of zoology.

Bat numbers began dwindling in New Brunswick in 2011 as white-nose syndrome reached the province. It's a fungus that's been spreading among bats in North America for nearly 15 years.

"Anybody who may have remembered having bats around their property in the summer months," said McAlpine, "probably is well aware now that they're not seeing very many, or any, bats at all."

If people see bats, McAlpine wants them to call him at the museum, where they're compiling a database of spots across the province with living populations.

Bats that are still alive have most definitely come into contact with white-nose yet survived, said McAlpine. So these bats may hold the key to immunity.

White-nose fungus grows around the mouths and wings of bats. (Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental Conservation/AP)

The museum plans to have researchers visit the reported locations later in the summer. The team has a special probe to test the pH levels and oil content of bats' wings without human contact.

Looking skin deep

They are testing the wing skin, and bats' skin in general, because of a possible link to susceptibility suggested by studies done by Karen Vanderwolf, a researcher who previously worked with the New Brunswick Museum.

"If we can find out how wing chemistry affects the fungus," said McAlpine, "it may be possible to change that wing chemistry in some way temporarily."

New Brunswick has lost more than 99 per cent of its overwintering bats to the disease, he said.

White-nose grows around the mouths and wings of bats, causing them to leave hibernation early and die of exposure and hunger in the winter.

The museum stopped counting bat numbers in southern New Brunswick in 2015 because of devastated bat populations.

With files from Information Morning


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