The Wisconsin DNR announced today that the deadly bat disease called “White-Nose Syndrome” has been discovered in Wisconsin. The discovery was made in a colony of bats hibernating in Grant County about 83 miles south-west of Devil’s Lake State Park. The sad news is that up to 95 percent of bats in infected caves and mines in other states have died and we can expect white-nose syndrome to continue to spread.
Here at Devil’s Lake State Park, many people have enjoyed the popular “Bat Watches” put on by the Nature Center during warm summer evenings over the last couple of years. (It’s wonderful to watch fear be put aside and be replaced by knowledge, respect and amazement.) This summer however, there is no guarantee that the bats will return. You see, when the colony of nearly 500 bats that spend their summer at the park’s North Shore Chateau return, they’ll find their homes are gone!
So, here’s the story; Park staff had wanted to remove the bats from the Chateau for some time for a variety of reasons, one reason is that they want to update the siding on the historic building. It was finally decided that the bats had to go. The first plan was to build a large new bat condo with the idea that the bats could be tempted to give up their many cozy homes on the Chateau in favor of one big bat apartment building. The new bat condo was placed a few hundred yards east of the Chateau near the north-shore boat landing. Summer came and went and the bat’s were having none of it! The new bat house stood empty.
Not to be deterred, the park staff decided last autumn to forcibly evict the bats by removing their bat houses from the Chateau building completely while the bats were away and hibernating over the winter. (Hopefully not in Grant County!) The idea then, was to attach a couple of the old bat houses to the outside of the new bat condo and hope that when the bats return this spring, they will find and accept the new digs. Will they? Who knows? They could simply choose to move on.
I certainly hope the bats choose to stay in the new condo. Certainly displacing bat colonies when we’re on the cusp of dealing with a killer like “white-nose” is a risky proposition by itself. If the bats don’t return it would also be a real bummer for people who use the park’s north shore. Each bat in the Chateau colony of about 500 individuals, can eat up to 600 mosquitos per hour!!! If they do move on, we’ll certainly need more bug spray!!
When you visit Devil’s Lake State Park this summer, be sure to stop by the bat condo and see if our local bats have decided to stay. If so, take some time right as the sun sets below the east bluff, to watch the bats head out to hunt for the evening. Maybe you’ll want to shout out a “Thank you” as they get to work! I will. (..and I might whisper quietly, “Thanks for deciding to stay!”)