The Northern long-eared Bat – Mapping a Mystery

CALYX’s environmental team is currently at work on the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) Eastern Research Project, a programmatic agreement between the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Highways Administration, United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the NCDOT. The project goal: to move forward all projects in the eastern half of the state (NCDOT Divisions 1 through 8) while determining the distribution and ecology of the Federally Threatened Northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) in this portion of its range.

The Eastern Research Project has our specialists, Kathryn Cunningham and Jennifer Harrod as well as intern, Dominique DiLandro, in search of the species.  The Northern long-eared has been decimated by White Nose Syndrome, caused by a cold loving fungus that impacts the bats during hibernation. Interestingly, the individuals found in eastern North Carolina do not appear to be susceptible to the disease unlike their counterparts in other portions of their range. Why the difference? Well, that’s a question CALYX is hoping to help answer. We know that in western North Carolina, bats spend the winter in caves, but it’s not known where they overwinter in the east where no caves are present. Could the lack of caves be the difference?

Learning more about the Northern long-eared bats of eastern North Carolina could help the USFWS understand why they are less susceptible to White Nose Syndrome, and in turn, save the more susceptible bats nationwide. We love it when projects take an altruistic turn. In 2016, CALYX netted and released a Northern long-eared bat in Bladen County, a first for that county.

This year, as we set off across Pender County, North Carolina, we hoped we might find more clues as to the species whereabouts. And in June , we did just that. At about 10pm, as a thunderstorm was rolling through, our team netted, recorded, and then released a Northern long-eared bat. For Jennifer and Dominique, it was the first Northern long-eared capture, and for Pender County, it was the first record of the species. For all, it was a milestone in determining the species’ distribution in the state.

You can see how this research continuously helps the NCDOT map the species to aid in project planning as well as assist USFWS in their quest to recover the species and eventually remove the Northern long-eared from the endangered species list.

There is a lot to learn; much about the Northern long-eared bat is still a mystery. But that’s what CALYX loves about the job. Every day brings a new challenge.