With the recent discovery that a bat-killing fungus is just 30 miles from Wisconsin, naturalists are hoping more Badger State residents learn to accept, and even try to help bats.
It's just after sunset outside Milwaukee County's Wehr Nature Center , and about 30 people surround naturalist Howard Aprill. “Okay folks, so let me show you what we have here.”
Aprill is holding a small yellow electronic device: a bat detector.
He says bat experts can look at the graph of a call and determine which bat species have been detected, much the way birders can identify specific bird calls.
Aprill then leads the group on about a two mile walk to listen and look for more bats. For minutes on this warm but pleasant night, the bat detector is quiet, but then as bats are flying around and likely chasing airborne insects, the device gets noisy again.
The annual Bat Night at Wehr Nature Center also included Humane Society workers holding live bats for people to see up close, and a short talk by Aprill on myths and truths about bats. One of the realities: The fungus that causes the bat-killing white-nose syndrome is at least as close as eastern Iowa. DNR cave and mine specialist Jennifer Schehr-Redell says many volunteers are out this summer, doing both acoustic monitoring of bats and tracking their homes or roosts, including at places like Devils Lake State Park. Schehr-Redell says there's still a lot scientists don't know about bats in Wisconsin.
Racine County resident Melissa Warner has been a volunteer bat monitor for about four years. She says it's vital to try to help Wisconsin bats.
Whether white-nose syndrome becomes a major problem in Wisconsin may not be known until at least this winter, when bats gather in caves, and potentially spread the fungus from bat to bat. But the summertime work done by naturalists and volunteers may shape how humans respond to any outbreak.