Louisiana leaders on Monday issued a call for the public’s help in completing a census of the state’s bat population. The goal is to avert a plague that has killed more than six million of the flying mammals in other parts of the country, but has yet to take hold here.
The deadly white fungus, known a Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or Pd for short, was first found afflicting bats in New York in 2006. State agencies, including the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, have spent the past decade trying to identify bat colonies and look for signs of “white nose syndrome.”
The evocative name derives from how the fungus turns white the muzzles and wings of hibernating bats, rousing them from their upside-down sleep, irritating them so much that they use up precious energy and die.
“(Bats are) a small species. Most people don’t pay attention to them generally,” said Dr. Jim LaCour, state veterinarian with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “It’s those small species where they can get into a bind and nobody knows about it.”
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Bats play a crucial role in the ecosystem, especially in agriculture. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2017 found that bats’ impressive appetite for insects saves farmers at least $3.7 billion per year. That works out to $74 per acre for the average farmer.
Getting a full picture of where bats live in Louisiana could help locate previously unknown infestations of Pd. Or it could help researchers pinpoint why the fungus has thus far avoided the Pelican State in favor of cooler climates.
“We don’t know why we haven’t found it in our state,” LaCour said. “We’re glad that we haven’t. It’s possible it’s connected to the fact that we are a little warmer here.”
Bats are well known for their love of caves, sometimes congregating there by the millions. But Louisiana has very few caves.
Instead, state monitors have focused on road culverts as the preferred Louisiana sleeping spot for bats, developing an extensive survey of these drainage channels. State employees also drive around with listening devices that can identify bats by sound. Louisiana has 12 species of bats and four of them have contracted the disease in other places.
Bats also hang out in other places, including attics, holes in trees, wells, pump houses and abandoned buildings, LaCour said, but those locales are almost all on private property.
That’s where the public comes in. Wildlife and Fisheries put out a call Monday to nature enthusiasts across Louisiana to sign up to track bats near where they live.
LaCour said a few people have already signed up. Participants receive paper data sheets to note any bats they discover.
They aren’t hard to find.
“If you look every evening, you’ll see bats flying around,” LaCour said. “They’re in somebody’s attic or house. So there are a lot of bats around.”
Those who know the location of a bat roost or want to participate in bat monitoring should contact Wildlife Disease Biologist Nikki Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 225-765-5030.