About Us

The BatCaver program is a partnership between bat researchers and cavers in western Canada to gain more insight into the use of our caves and mines by bats, particularly in winter when they are most at risk of White Nose Syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease of hibernating bats.  Little research has been undertaken regarding cave bat ecology in BC and Alberta.  The goal of this program is to expand our knowledge by placing remote bat detectors and climate loggers in caves and mines and taking fungal samples, with the assistance of the caving community.  Since the introduction of WNS into eastern North America, bat populations are being decimated while the fungus that causes the disease is spreading westward.  It is imperative that we learn as much as we can about the wintering ecology of our cave bats in BC and Alberta in order to develop mitigation or prevention strategies for the disease.  BC is host to the highest diversity of bats in Canada, with at least 16 species.  Of these, at least half are thought to be vulnerable to WNS due to their tendency to hibernate in caves and mines.  Two of our western bat species have recently been reclassified as endangered due to the high mortalities occurring in eastern Canadian hibernacula.


About Bats


Based on the fossil record, bats have existed for at least 53 million years.  Although small, they are very sophisticated creatures with life spans up to 40 years, making them the longest-lived mammals for their size. But they are also among the slowest reproducing mammals for their size, with most species and populations bearing only one young per year.  Bats of western Canada are all insectivores.  They feed on massive amounts of insects at night using their ultrasonic calls (mostly above the range of human hearing) to 'see' in the dark, much like sonar but more sophisticated.  They can catch their own weight in bugs in a single evening.  In the daytime, they will roost in rock crevices, trees and buildings where they will avoid daytime predators, and in the case of breeding females, select roosts that are sufficiently warm to raise young.  At night, they will hunt insects wherever they are found, including along lakes, streams, the ocean, cliffsides, on and around trees, streetlights (moths love streetlights!) and cave entrances.  At night, many bats will fly into caves to roost in the middle of the night, emerging for a final feed before dawn when they will retreat to their day roosts.  As the days get shorter, bats work overtime to feed and put on as much fat as possible before winter.  Many of our bat species will hibernate in caves and mines all winter while some of the larger bats migrate south.  When our bats hibernate, they are most vulnerable, as their dormant low energy state reduces their ability to fend off predators, and reduces physiological functions like immunity.


Where are hibernating bats found?


While research in western Canada is limited, we do know that long-term hibernating species tend to prefer quiet locations deep in caves and mines with high humidity and temperatures that approach but do not go below freezing.   The hibernation period in western Canada generally ranges from early October to late May.  The longest-duration hibernators are thought to be the Little Brown myotis, Long-Legged myotis, Northern Long-eared myotis, Western Long-eared myotis, Keen's Long-eared myotis, Yuma myotis and the Big Brown Bat, but hibernacula have yet to be located for other species.   Long duration hibernators and those using highest humidity caves will be most vulnerable to WNS.  Some western bat species hibernate for shorter periods as they are more adapted to feeding in the times when few insects are present and may prove resistant to WNS.  

Protect Bats

Bats are very sensitive to disturbance while hibernating. If you see hibernating bats, leave the area immediately.

Icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com
MORE

Clean Gear

Decontaminating your gear between caving trips can prevent the spread of WNS.



Icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com
MORE

Find Bats

Install a bat monitoring device in a cave or mine when you go caving.



Icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com
MORE

Updates

NEW HIBERNACULUM FOUND

February 2017

On a February 2017 trip to the boreal forest of northern Alberta, BatCaver volunteers have confirmed the use of a cave by Little Brown Myotis bats for hibernation.  In this cave, 213 Myotis lucifugus were counted, but it is suspected that more exist.  The cave itself is unusual in that it was formed by a light sulphuric acid dissolving the limestone, making the environment fairly inhospitable for humans.  Bats were swabbed for samples of DNA and to monitor for signs of white-nose syndrome.  Ultrasonic data loggers that record bat activity were deployed, along with temperature and humidity loggers which gather information on the type of cave climate the bats are using at this site.  This is the third largest hibernaculum found in Alberta to date.

In our partnering with the general public, biologists and the caving community, other smaller newly discovered hibernation sites have been brought to our attention.  These include sites in British Columbia in the regions of these communities:  near Victoria; Port Alberni; Greenwood;  Dawson Creek; and Hudsons Hope.  Many other old mine sites have been found to contain large numbers of hibernating bats, primarily in southern BC.


NEW EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS

February 2017

The BatCaver program has produced brochures aimed at people visiting caves which explain the risks of inadvertently transporting white-nose syndrome spores from one region to another.  It also contains conservation messaging, decontamination protocols for WNS and contacts for further information.   

These have been sent to tourist caves in western Canada as well as caving organizations.  In addition, we have produced signage regarding bat conservation messaging, intended for posting at entrances to bat hibernation caves.  Other signage has been produced in consultation with BC Parks, for posting at trailheads to provincial cave parks which has similar conservation messaging.  We are also workng with other bat groups across Canada on bat translocation signage.  This is regarding the issues around bats being accidentally transported by campers and their vehicles when moving around North America.  The concern is regarding moving bats infected with white-nose syndrome to uninfected regions.

WHITE-NOSE SYNDROME CONFIRMED IN WASHINGTON STATE

March 31, 2016

A single bat has been confirmed to have died from White Nose Syndrome, just east of Seattle, Washington State.  For cavers in the west, this means that decontamination protocols need to be observed. CLICK HERE for a link to the original press release.  For cavers in the west, this means that decontamination protocols need to be observed.  For more information, CLICK HERE.  APRIL 2017 UPDATE: While one more non-hibernating migratory bat was found to carry the spores of WNS, no further signs of an outbreak have occurred at this point.  We are keeping our fingers crossed!

Summary of our first year's activities

In the first year of the program, beginning fall 2015, we have deployed ultrasonic bat detectors to 70 mine and cave sites across British Columbia and Alberta.  New bat hibernacula have been identified by our volunteers.  Detector retrievals have begun as the snow leaves and bats emerge from hibernation.  We would like to acknowledge all our volunteers in this effort:  members of the Alberta Speleological Society, BC Speleological Federation and all others who have contributed to the success of this major undertaking.  Our 2016 season includes analysis of the data gathered, followed by redeployment of data loggers to new locations in our ongoing effort to identify hibernation sites across western Canada. 

 

NEWS

Discovery of two new hibernacula in Alberta Caves - Globe and Mail article, March 12 2016 


Video

White Nose Syndrome (WNS) is a fungal disease that has caused up to 100% bat mortality in cave hibernacula in Eastern Canada and United States. The longer the West can remain WNS-free, the more time there is to develop critical conservation strategies for vulnerable bat species.

WNS AND WESTERN CANADA

DECONTAMINATION PROTOCOLS FOR VISITING BAT HIBERNACULA

Watch this video in French.

Copyright 2017 by Wildlife Conservation Society