White-nose syndrome decimates bats at Canoe Creek State Park

Mark NaleUntil just a few years ago, Canoe Creek State Park was known for its bat population. The park contains a gated limestone mine that once was used as a hibernation site for nearly 30,000 members of six bat species, including the endangered Indiana bat.

The abandoned Canoe Creek Church, located near the park's entrance, was the summer home to an estimated 20,000 little brown bats. The bats returned to this church attic to raise their young each year. Favorable conditions within the attic and excellent surrounding habitat made the church the largest nursery colony in Pennsylvania and one of the largest in the eastern United States.

Bat research was conducted at the park and many of the park's summer programs centered around bats and their importance.

Sadly, the nocturnal fluttering of thousands of bat wings is no longer heard at the park, and the bats' ability to control mosquitoes is sorely missed. The park's bats recently became a victim of the deadly white-nose syndrome – a white fungus that grows on the muzzles and wing membranes of affected bats.

The syndrome was first documented in New York in the winter of 2006-07, and showed up in Pennsylvania in 2008. The disease has decimated bat colonies in the Northeast – including those at Canoe Creek State Park. By February, 2012, only a few hundred bats remained at the park.

"Our winter 2011 survey was the first to indicate a declining bat population here at the park," said Heidi Mullendore, park naturalist. "The survey of hibernating bats was 15,000 that year. The February 2012 survey recorded only 237 and in March of this year we counted just 155 bats. Only a small population – fewer than 100 little brown bats – is using the church this summer."    

The park has suspended all of its popular bat programs and unless the bats develop a resistance to the fungus or a cure is found the suspension will continue indefinitely.

"Unfortunately we are now the bat-less bat park," saidd Mullendore.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Mark Nale

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