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Going to Bat for a Species on the Brink


Posted by: Rebecca Guiterman

Today, we are petitioning to protect tricolored bats under the Endangered Species Act – before it’s too late.

Chances are you have never seen a tricolored bat, or if you have, you didn’t even know it. These bats are so small, and have such a fluttery flight pattern, that people often mistake them for moths.

Also known as the eastern pipistrelle, the tricolored bat gets its name from its unique coloring. Its hair is “tricolored”: black at the base, yellow in the middle, and brown at the tip. Weighing between 4 and 8 grams, and measuring just 77 to 89 millimeters from head to tail, the tricolored bat is one of the smallest North American bats.
Although this tiny bat may not often be seen, every living thing in an ecosystem can feel its impact. As an insect-eater, it is an incredible source of pest control. In fact, one tricolored bat can eat up to 25% of its body weight in insects in just 30 minutes!

Tragically, the tricolored bat is also one of the species most dramatically affected by the spread of white-nose syndrome (WNS), the fungal disease that has devastated North American hibernating bat populations in recent years. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), since WNS was first discovered in upstate New York in 2006, the disease has killed an estimated 5.7 to 6.7 million bats. Historically the tricolored bat was one of the most common bat species in the eastern forests of North America. But its population is in drastic decline, and the bat has almost entirely disappeared from several states in its historic range. WNS is spreading rapidly, and is now present in 28 states and 5 Canadian provinces, overlapping with most of the tricolored bat’s range. And although many experts are hard at work, scientists have yet to determine how to stop the rapid spread of this deadly fungus.

WNS strikes bats by damaging their skin and wings, often killing them directly or waking them from hibernation before food is available. The bats then waste their crucial fat reserves and starve to death. The tricolored bat is particularly vulnerable to WNS for two reasons. First, these bats hibernate in the deepest part of caves, where temperatures and humidity are highest – ideal conditions for the WNS fungus to thrive. And second, these bats hibernate for a long time – longer than most other bats in the species’ range. This long hibernation period increases the tricolored bats’ exposure to the pathogenic fungus. Biologists report that the tricolored bat has one of the highest documented mortality rates of all bats affected by white-nose syndrome: up to 98 percent in the northeastern United States. To make matters worse, the bats reproduce slowly, so when populations decline, it can take a very long time to build them back up again.

Unfortunately, tricolored bats face more threats than just WNS. Like many bat species, they also have to contend with human disturbance at hibernation and roost sites, habitat loss, pesticides, poorly-placed wind turbines, and climate change. Together with white-nose syndrome, these threats are pushing tricolored bats to the brink of extinction.

It’s clear that without immediate action, we could lose tricolored bats forever. So we’re taking the best step we can to keep this species on the map.

Today, we joined the Center for Biological Diversity in submitting a petition to the FWS to list the tricolored bat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We’re also asking the FWS to immediately designate critical habitat for the tricolored bat. While scientists continue to work towards a cure for WNS, it is crucial that we protect all surviving bats from all other threats that we can. Habitat loss is a grave threat – even healthy bats cannot survive without healthy habitat to live in, protected from logging or development. Listing this species under the ESA will grant it the legal protections it desperately needs.

Now that we’ve filed the petition, the Service has 90 days to respond, indicating whether or not it will start the review process to consider listing. We hope that the agency will act quickly. It’s clear that the tricolored bat is running out of time.

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Megabats and Microbats
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