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, Jennifer Harrod, and 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, the CALYX team, led by Heather Wallace, netted and released a Northern long-eared bat in Bladen County, a first for that county.

During the summer of 2017, as we set off across Pender County, North Carolina, we hoped we might find more clues as to the species whereabouts. In June, we did just that. At about 10 pm, as a thunderstorm was rolling through, our team netted, documented, and then released a Northern long-eared bat. For Jennifer and Dominique, it was their 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.

Building on the success of our summer work, we began mist-netting efforts in the northeastern corner of North Carolina. Our goal is to capture overwintering individuals and track them to their roost sites. We are hoping to determine how far these individuals travel from their foraging areas to their roosts each night, as well as what sort of roost characteristics are important to them. So far, our efforts have resulted in the capture and tracking of four males. We will continue with mist netting in early 2018, and hope to learn even more about the winter habits of these fascinating creatures.

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.