Species Spotlight: The Indiana Bat

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

Michigan protects federally listed birds, snakes and plants—and one bat. The Indiana bat, the only endangered bat in the state, has been federally protected since the late 1960s.

An Indiana bat. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Indiana bats are small, with mouse-like ears and dark brown to black fur, and only weigh one-quarter of an ounce. Though these bats are small and light, they appear larger in flight and have a wingspan of 9 to 11 inches.

Indiana bats can be found in the eastern United States, with populations living in Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, New York, Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia. They spend their winters hibernating in cool, humid caves or abandoned mines, and roost under loose tree bark on dead or dying trees in the summer.

In 2005, the estimated population was about 457,000 Indiana bats—half as many as there were when the species was listed as endangered in 1967. Reasons for population loss include human disturbance, cave commercializing and improper gating, summer habitat loss or degradation, and pesticide and environmental contaminants. One additional factor threatens all species of bats and has killed millions bats since 2006: a disease called white-nose syndrome.

White-nose syndrome was first observed in a cave in New York in 2006 and has spread to caves in Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The disease affects hibernating bats and is named for the white fungus that appears on the bat’s muzzle and other body parts. Bats with this disease exhibit uncharacteristic behavior during hibernating months, including flying outside during the daytime and clustering near entrances of the areas in which they hibernate. White-nose syndrome has killed between 5.7 and 6.7 million bats in the eastern part of North America; in some hibernating areas, as many as 90 to 100 percent of hibernating bats have died.

A bat with white-nose syndrome. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

State and national plans have been established to manage white-nose syndrome, and Michigan published its response plan in December 2010. The response plan focuses on delaying human-assisted introductions of the disease as much as possible, minimizing human dissemination of the fungus associated with the disease once it becomes present in Michigan, and conserving the remaining bat population after the disease has arrived. Thankfully, things are still looking good in the mitten state: the Michigan Department of Natural Resources conducted a statewide survey in 2012 and found no sign of white-nose syndrome.

For more information on white-nose syndrome, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s white-nose syndrome website.

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