White-Nose Syndrome Is Devastating Bats In The East And Is Predicted To Come To Utah

Jul 19, 2019

Bats are important parts of many ecosystems. Collectively they consume literal tons of flying insects, including the mosquitoes that spread diseases like West Nile, which was recently found in Moab. We have 18 species of bats across the state of Utah, but they may be under threat of a deadly disease.

I joined Grace Carpenter of the National Park Service who monitors bats in the Glen Canyon Recreation Area.

“White-nose syndrome is a disease of hibernating bats," she said. "Basically, it causes different electrolyte and water-level imbalances in the species which causes them to be irritated enough to wake up out of hibernation, causes them to be awake during the winter season at times that they’re not supposed to be, therefore they end up burning through their fat stores and they kind of end up starving to death before the end of the winter.”

White-nose syndrome is no joke. It’s wiped out 85-100% of hibernating bats in many caves of the northeastern United States. Although it’s not in Utah yet, it is predicted to get here, so these baseline-monitoring efforts are important for managers as the disease spreads westward. 

We caught the bats with mist nets.

“It kind of looks like a very, very large volleyball net almost. It’s anywhere from 6-12 meters long and then they’re anywhere from about three meters to about eight meters tall,” Carpenter said. 

We caught lots of bats and measured them, and determined their species and reproductive status. Carpenter also told me about the upcoming Glen Canyon Bat Festival.

“It’s going to be on July 20th at the Lake Powell Resort Lawn, and it’s from 5 PM to 10 PM, and it’s going to be amazing. We’re super excited. It will have a few booths that people can check out and we’re going to do a little bat walk as well. With our Echo Meter Touch, we’ll be able to listen to some bat calls in a range that humans are able to hear it,” she said.

Bats chirp to echolocate in a range up to 10 times higher than humans can hear, so all the calls in this audio have been slowed down by a factor of ten.