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Endangered northern long-eared bats discovered in coastal Alabama

Biologists from the Alabama Department of Conservation, Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Alabama Bat Task Force have discovered a breeding population of endangered northern long-tailed bats off the Alabama coast.

The bats were discovered during the annual Bat Blitz, which is held in a different location across the state each year to survey local bat populations.

This year’s Bat Blitz was held in May in Baldwin and Mobile counties. On the final day of the event, a male northern long-tailed bat and two pregnant females were captured and released into the Forever Wild Land Trust area within the Perdido River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Baldwin County. Prior to the 2023 Bat Blitz, this species had not been recorded in southwestern Alabama.

“After northern long-eared bats were discovered in coastal North Carolina and South Carolina, we focused on coastal Alabama,” said Nick Sharp, Alabama WFF bat biologist. “This discovery is important because there are no caves in these locations and the bats apparently do not hibernate. Rather, they are active year-round, so they are not exposed to white-nose syndrome.”

The northern long-eared bat was once one of the most common bat species in eastern North America, but WNS, a deadly fungal disease that affects hibernating bats, wiped out the species. According to USFWS, WNS resulted in a 97-100% decline in affected northern long-eared bat populations. Due to severe population declines, the northern long-eared bat was listed as an endangered species by the federal government in 2022 under the Endangered Species Act.

“The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has intended to acquire land along the Perdido River Corridor to add to the land currently surrounding the Perdido WMA,” said ADCNR Secretary and Forever Wild Land Trust Board Chair. Chris Blankenship said. “The discovery of this endangered species in the area we are working to protect is further evidence of the importance of this land in eastern Baldwin County.”

In June 2023, a second effort was conducted to capture more northern long-tailed bats in the Perdido River WMA with the aim of finding the maternal colony. The attempt led to the capture of another male and a lactating female, who were found to have given birth in the area.

“We tried to attach radio tags to the bats to track them to their daytime roosts, but were unsuccessful,” Sharp said. “However, being able to return to the field and capture more northern long-nosed bats confirms that there is a settled and breeding population in this area. It could be added to the list of places where you might survive the syndrome.”

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