Masters student Chloe Pearson (left) and Alexandra Israel, research lead from the Toronto Zoo Native Bat Conservation Program, speak to Maitland Conservation board members about the pilot project at Wawanosh Valley Conservation Area. Behind them stands the new ‘bat condo,’ which will be the new home for bats currently residing in the barn. Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

BELGRAVE – A colony of little brown myotis bats currently living at the Wawanosh Valley Conservation Area (WVCA) has to move this fall, but they have a beautiful new bat condo to move to that is large enough to house 3,000 bats.

On July 19, board members from Maitland Conservation (MC) visited the new home for the bats. They heard about the colony of approximately 600 bats and their pups that call the former Nature Centre home.

Alexandra Israel, research lead from the Toronto Zoo Native Bat Conservation Program, and masters student Chloe Pearson talked about their work at WVCA and explained why they were studying these bats.

Israel described the mission of the conservation program, which is mainly to monitor and learn more about the bat population, mostly in the GTA area, but they also collaborate with different projects in the province.

“In Ontario, we have eight species of bats,” said Israel. “And unfortunately, about seven of them are either federally or provincially listed (endangered).”

“So unfortunately, they do need our help. They face a lot of obstacles. Many of these include wind turbines… which is great for renewable energy, but not so great for migrating bats,” said Israel.

“White Nose Syndrome is another issue that bats face. It’s a fungus that was brought to North America in the mid-2000s. And our bats haven’t evolved here with this fungus,” Israel explained. “So it hit roosting bats pretty hard, because they all congregate in their colonies and spread it. It wakes them up when they’re hibernating in the winter. And unfortunately, they can’t survive because they starve.”

Israel also talked about the persecution of bats by people and how the myths were untrue and harmful to the colonies.

“A lot of people are scared of bats,” she said. “They think that bats will fly in your hair because they’re blind. But that’s actually a myth. Bats are very capable fliers at night. They fly with echolocation at night. So they kind of constantly send out high-frequency sound to detect their surroundings. And they’re essentially flying and shouting at the same time, to make their way through the forest at night.”

Bats typically forage over water, and their diet consists mainly of aquatic insects such as mosquitoes, midges, mayflies and caddisflies.

The research lead explained that bats are largely under-studied, and they are only beginning to understand them. “So this is very much a pilot project to see, you know, what temperature they like, what spots they like,” she said.

In summer, the males and females live apart while the females raise the young. When fall comes, both sexes fly south to a hibernaculum, where they mate and then hibernate.

They typically produce only one pup each year. Little brown myotis start breeding after one year and have been recorded to live for over 30 years.

Because of this living arrangement, the researchers also installed tiny bat houses around the bat condo for the males.

These houses are being used, and the researchers have noticed several males inhabiting these ‘bachelor pads.’ This brings them hope that when the females roost in the spring, they will use the new condo.

“I kind of suspect that the individuals that are in the boxes around the barns… we kind of think that they’re males hanging out,” Israel told board members. “We also captured a few juvenile males, it’s really cool. So they’ll kind of hang out with the maternal colony until they leave in the fall time to go to the hibernation grounds.”

The barn will be dismantled in October, and the Maitland Conservation Foundation (MCF) will replace it with a large picnic shelter once they have raised the funds.

MCF recently launched a campaign to raise funds for the picnic shelter, which will have accessible washrooms and storage at WVCA. The picnic shelter is envisioned as a community gathering area and will facilitate special events at the site. The goal is to raise $140,000.

MCF chose the timing of the teardown to coincide with the migration from the barn, which happens every fall when the small bats head to their hibernation grounds, some believe to be up on the Bruce Peninsula.

“We don’t know exactly where they go. But they don’t migrate too far,” said Israel.

Israel finished her presentation by saying, “Bats are so important to us because they are a large controller of our insects. So they’re really important to the agricultural industry. Because you know, when the swallows and the warblers go to sleep at night, the bats come out and control our nocturnal insects, so they’re our friends. They eat our mosquitoes, which is great.”

By Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 04, 2023 at 07:15

This item reprinted with permission from   Advance Times   Wingham, Ontario
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