Since the arrival of the COVID-19 virus, bats have developed an undeserved bad name around the world. But if Heather Arsenault has anything to do with it, that will change, at least for visitors at Pinery Provincial Park.
Arsenault works at Pinery, researching the Little Brown Myotis, a bat species that has become endangered. Her work was supported by a grant from the Grand Bend Community Foundation in 2019.
Little Browns have been decimated by “White Nose Syndrome,” a disease caused by a fungus that thrives in the caves where many bats over-winter. “We still have Little Browns coming to the Pinery every summer, although the numbers have been reduced,” says Arsenault. “We are working to estimate how much numbers have dropped and to learn how we can support these animals.”
One way to support the bats is to provide them with human-made roosts where they can safely give birth and raise their pups. Arsenault is experimenting with two designs to determine which works best. One is a four-chamber box and the other is a “rocket box,” which echoes the experience of roosting in a hollow tree. Three hundred bats were captured and tagged in previous years, and now the project is gathering data on which roosts they prefer.
The pandemic has had an impact of her research, Arsenault says. “When the virus was first linked to a species of horseshoe bats in Asia, the media went wild with this information, demonizing bats. This led to the growth of fear and hate towards bats, something our project has been trying to undo for several years.” In addition, there was concern that human-bat contact in the Pinery could spread infection to the animals, so tagging was halted.
The grant from GBCF helped purchase a tag reader that will provide ongoing data about which bats use which boxes.
Arsenault is clearly passionate about her work. “Bats have a bad reputation that they really don’t deserve,” she says. “I love taking what we learn from our research and using it to show Pinery visitors that bats are important, misunderstood and really cool!”