Bats are mysterious, seldom-seen creatures. They’re nocturnal, which means that you’ll only see them at night when they come out to feed. Bats are also seasonal, hibernating during the colder winter months, and emerging in the spring time when the insects on which they feed are plentiful. But one species of Northeast Iowa’s bats is in danger, and Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is appealing for your help.
White Nose Syndrome (WNS)
White Nose Syndrome is a disease that affects bats while they are in hibernation. It’s estimated that millions have already died of the disease which originates from a fungus found in the caves where the bats hibernate. Fortunately WNS does not pose any danger to people, livestock or pets, it’s just transmitted from one bat to another.
All five species of bats found in Northeast Iowa are affected by WNS. These species include:
- tri-colored bat
- long-eared bat
- little brown bat
- big brown bat
- Indiana bat
Not only is this bad news for the bats, it could be catastrophic for farmers too. Bats feed on the insects that damage agricultural crops, and their voracious appetite is estimated to save farmers approximately $3 billion every year in pest control costs.
Unfortunately, hikers and cavers can inadvertently spread the disease by carrying fungal spores on their clothing and backpacks. The DNR and state parks’ staff are working hard to educate people in an effort to control the spread of the disease. Bats are very important to the balance of the local ecosystem, and you can help these important creatures by following the park rangers’ advice. Take heed of the decontamination advice given before entering caves, and be very careful not to disturb the bats, particularly during hibernation.
You can also help by volunteering to monitor populations of bats across northeast Iowa. Monitoring surveys use acoustics to record echo-location calls, and the data collected is used to measure bat populations and areas of high activity. It’s also important that you report any strange bat behaviour that you see, such as bats observed flying in daylight hours, or large numbers of dead or dying bats seen near cave entrances.
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