The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and Bat Conservation International (BCI) are collaborating on the fourth year of a project to monitor bats in the Texas panhandle. This work is supported by a grant through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s White-nose Syndrome Grants to States Program awarded to TPWD. The goal of this monitoring effort is to determine if the devastating disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS), which has been steadily spreading across eastern North America, has made it to Texas. This disease is responsible for an estimated six million bat deaths and has the potential to do much more damage as it spreads westward.
White-nose syndrome affects hibernating bats in colder regions. For this reason, BCI and TPWD have focused surveillance efforts in the panhandle region of the state, where caves are most likely to host conditions suitable for the disease.
This year, we have added a new element to the study – acoustic monitoring. We installed ultrasonic acoustic bat detectors at three of the highest priority caves in order to monitor when bats are active outside the cave. The acoustic monitors will remain in place, recording 24 hours a day, through March 2015.
Bats become unusually active during the winter when they contract WNS. The disease appears to cause individuals extreme discomfort, awakening bats from hibernation and forcing them to burn up limited fat reserves. The ultimate result of this disease-induced activity is that an infected bat may use up its fat reserves before the end of winter and die due to starvation.
The acoustic monitors will help identify if there is unusual winter activity at the targeted caves. Also, these monitors will help us learn more about natural winter activity patterns in Texas bats. In combination with temperature data loggers, we may learn whether bats become active during mid-winter warm periods – a behavior that may allow WNS-infected bats to feed mid-winter and avoid starvation.
For more information about this disease visit White-nose Syndrome.org.