Lilly: Hi. My name is Lilly, and I go to Dalton Elementary. My question is, how do bats pick where they nest?
Jesse Barber: So, the first thing is that bats roost. They don’t make nests like birds. And they pick where they roost very carefully, because the temperature and the safety of where they decide to spend the day and night is very important. So, they pick a spot that’s high and away from predators and is also just the right temperature.
Rita Dixon: And bats have – I’ll just add, bats have different kinds of roosts that they need. So, when they’re hibernating, they have a particular roost that’s going to be different than if it was female bats needing a maternity colony. And bats have what we call night roosts where they’re just temporary roosts at night, and some bats have day roosts where they sleep all day.
Olivia: Hi. My name is Olivia. I go to Dalton Elementary, and my question is, how long do bats live in their lifetime?
Jesse Barber: Bats live a long time. Decades. There are some records of bats living into their thirties, and the oldest known record is a bat that lived to be 41 years old, at least. So, while we don’t know how long bats live for sure, we know they live a long time.
Jackson: Hi. My name is Jackson. I go to Dalton Elementary. My question is, why do the wrinkle-faced bats have wrinkled faces?
Jesse Barber: Those wrinkles on the males also have scent glands inside the folds, and so it’s thought that the male communicates with these scent glands. And another really interesting thing that these bats can do, both the male and the female, is they can pull the skin all the way over their face so that you can’t see their head, and this might be a way for the bats to hide from predators when they’re in plain sight during the day.
Joan Cartan-Hansen: Al asks, how far would a bat in Idaho have to fly to find food?
Rita Dixon: Well, I’ll just have to say, that depends. I mean, some bats travel miles to find food and from – like, there are hoary bats, for example, that might roost on a ridge top but will fly out over – to forage over grasslands or agricultural fields. So, it really varies from species to species.
Joan Cartan-Hansen: The underground chamber of the Old Swan Falls power plant is home to a colony of little brown bats. There are only a handful of known bat colonies of this size in Idaho. State wildlife veterinarian, Mark Drew, and wildlife coordinator, Rita Dixon, are here on a mission. They’re here to try to save the bats.
Rita Dixon: There is a disease called white-nose syndrome, and it showed up in the eastern United States and has since spread to half the country.
Mark Drew: White-nose is one of those things that kind of came on the scene a decade or more ago. Never seen the fungus before. All of a sudden, it’s here, and it’s killing millions of bats. In fact, some bat species are almost endangered or almost extinct because of the fungus.
Joan Cartan-Hansen: It’s called white-nose syndrome because the disease leaves a white fungus on the infected bat’s nose and wings.
Rita Dixon: And you’ve got the clipboard, right?
Joan Cartan-Hansen: The fungus usually infects the bats as they hibernate in the winter.
Mark Drew: The fungus disrupts the hibernation because it makes them sick. It’s a very tight balance between I’ve got enough fat to get through the winter or I don’t. And anything that disrupts that balance is going to potentially cause mortality.
Joan Cartan-Hansen: Drew and Dixon start their investigation by recording the chamber’s temperature and humidity.
Rita Dixon: Temperature and humidity is really an important indicator of the conditions for the bats, as well as white-nose syndrome. Okay. This dry reading is 65, and the wet reading is 57.
Joan Cartan-Hansen: Next, the scientists collect samples from the bats.
Rita Dixon: Swabbing bats is basically taking a sterile swab, dipping it in a solution, and then rolling the swab back and forth across the bat’s forearm three times and then across the bat’s muzzle.
And what that does is, if there were any fungus from white-nose, we would probably pick it up on the swab. And then it gets broken off, put back in the little tube, and then we will be shipping that to the National Wildlife Health Center so that they can examine it and see if they find any fungus.
Mark Drew: The critical thing for us in Idaho, because we don’t have the fungus, is we need to know if and when it arrives.
Rita Dixon: Okay. Sandy, you said there was one over here by the light.
Mark Drew: We want to be able to find this fungus really, really early so that we can respond to it in a colony like this where we can do something.
Joan Cartan-Hansen: The team collects samples from 25 bats. Everything needs to be done quickly and quietly.
Mark Drew: Most of them tolerated what we did. Some of them got a little irritated and flew around. That’s to be expected.
Joan Cartan-Hansen: Drew says humans are the biggest cause for the spread of white-nose syndrome.
Mark Drew: People move, and cavers and people that like to go into caves, they can transport the fungus in the debris and the mud and things like that that they have on their shoes and on their clothes.
Joan Cartan-Hansen: For the bats’ protection, these chambers aren’t open to the public, and the scientists wear protective clothing to make sure that they don’t spread any disease.
Before leaving, scientists take a last look around for any sick or dead bats, another sign of possible infection. Then the samples are sent off for testing. Fortunately, the National Wildlife Health Center found no trace of the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in this colony, but the scientists will be back to make sure these bats stay healthy.