Townsend’s Big-eared Bat is one of the species counted during the BC Annual Bat Count. (Aimee Mitchell photo)

B.C. bats not to blame for COVID-19; in fact, bats need our help

B.C. Annual Bat Count contributes to surveillance for white-nose syndrome across the province

  • May. 21, 2020 12:00 a.m.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a negative spotlight on bats, due to concerns over B.C. bats carrying the virus. This association is a myth – bats in B.C. do not have or spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for COVID-19. Misinformation such as this can lead to unfounded fear and persecution of bats.

In reality, bats are an essential part of our ecology, consuming many insect pests each night. Bats in B.C. suffer from many threats, and almost half of our 15 species are ‘at-risk’. One of the more familiar species, the Littlle Brown Myotis, is now Endangered in Canada.

A simple way to support bats including the Little Brown Myotis is to participate in the BC Annual Bat Count this June. The BC Community Bat Program is requesting colony reports and volunteer assistance for this citizen-science initiative that encourages residents to count bats at local roost sites. Bat counts are easy, fun, and safe, not to mention vital for monitoring bat populations.

“The counts are a wonderful way for people to get outside, respect social distancing guidelines, and be involved in collecting important scientific information,” says Cate Arnold, Thompson Coordinator of the BC Community Bat Program.

Volunteers wait outside a known roost site, such as a bat-box, barn, or atic, and count bats as they fly out at twilight. Ideally, one to two counts are done between June 1 and 21 before pups are born, and one to two more between July 11 and August 5 when pups are flying.

In 2019, the Annual Bat Count collected baseline data on bat populations at 337 sites across the province, and they hope to monitor these sites and more for 2020. The count data helps bat biologists understand bat distribution and normal variation in colony sizes before our bats face impacts from a devastating bat disease called White-nose Syndrome.

White-nose syndrome is an introduced fungal disease, fatal for bats but not for other animals or humans. Not yet identified in B.C., the disease continues to spread in Washington State, less than 200 km from our border. Results from the Bat Count may help prioritize areas in B.C. for research into treatment options and recovery actions.

“We know relatively little about bats in B.C., including basic information on population numbers,” continues Arnold. “This information is more valuable than ever, particularly if it is collected annually. If people want to get involved but don’t have a roost site on their property, we will try to match them with a roost site nearby.”

The Annual Bat Counts offer a safe way to learn about bats and share knowledge, while contributing to bat conservation efforts. Funded by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Forest Enhancement Society of BC, and the Habitat Stewardship Program, and with support of the Kamloops Naturalist Club, the BC Conservation Foundation and the Province of BC, the BC Community Bat Program provides information for people dealing with bat issues on their property or who have questions about how to attract bats.

To find out more about bat counts or white-nose syndrome, to report a dead bat, or to get assistance dealing with bat issues, visit www.bcbats.ca or call 1-855-9BC-BATS, ext. 21 or email: thompson@bcbats.ca.

More factual information about bats, the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and COVID-19 is available at:

• BC Community Bat Program: www.bcbats.ca https://bcbats.ca/index.php/get-involved/community-bat-program-news-updates/91-information-bulletin-on-bats-in-bc-covid-19-and-wns

• Bat Conservation International http://www.batcon.org/resources/media-education/news-room/gen-news/80-latest-news/1227-bci-s-faq-on-bats-and-covid-19

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