Northern Long-Eared Bat Proposed as Endangered Species

The bats have been nearly wiped out by white-nose syndrome.

Northern long-eared bat

Stan Tekiela Author / Naturalist / Wildlife Photographer / Getty Images

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed naming the northern long-eared bat as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Currently listed as threatened, the bat has been nearly decimated by the deadly white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that grows in damp, dark places where bats live.

White-nose syndrome was first spotted in the mid-2000s in caves near Albany, New York, when explorers saw what looked like hibernating bats with white powder on their muzzles.

Bats that are infected behave abnormally, such as flying during the day, and the fungus destroys their skin, particularly their wings. Bats with the disease are emaciated and dehydrated.

The fungus has since spread to 33 states and causes disease in a dozen hibernating bat species, including the northern long-eared bat which has been severely affected by the disease. The species has experienced population declines of 99% since white-nose syndrome first appeared around 2006.

“White-nose syndrome is devastating northern long-eared bats at unprecedented rates, as indicated by this science-based finding,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Charlie Wooley in making the announcement.

“The Service is deeply committed to continuing our vital research with partners on reducing the impacts of white-nose syndrome, while working with diverse stakeholders to conserve the northern long-eared bat and reduce impacts to landowners.”

About Northern Long-Eared Bats

The northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) is found in 37 states through the central and eastern U.S. and eight provinces in Canada. It is about 3 to 3.7 inches long and has a wingspan of 9 to 10 inches. It’s known for its prominent long ears.

The bats live in mature forests and forage along ridgelines and wooded hillsides. They like to roost and hibernate in tight crevices and holes, rather than in open areas in caves. They are threatened by habitat loss due to logging, drilling, and other activities that cause forest fragmentation. Direct collisions with wind turbines are also a significant issue.

The species was listed as threatened in 2015 with a “special rule” that exempted nearly all activities that destroy bats and their habitats.

A lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, and other environmental groups worked to overturn the threatened listing that allowed those exceptions.

The change in legal status under the Endangered Species Act will offer the bats more protection.

“Providing full protection to northern long-eared bats is a crucial step in preventing these unique and useful creatures from going extinct,” Ryan Shannon, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “This decision finally acknowledges the dire situation facing these bats. Without greater shelter under the Endangered Species Act, they’ll likely go extinct.”

Federal officials will accept public comments until May 23 and will announce a decision in November whether to list the northern long-eared bats as "endangered,” which would safeguard the species and protect it from being killed.

“Although I am deeply saddened by the critical situation that warrants listing northern long-eared bats as endangered," Winifred Frick, chief scientist at Bat Conservation International, tells Treehugger. "I am hopeful that this decision by USFWS provides the species the protection it deserves. We will continue to work toward solutions and monitor the species—doing all we can to help it recover."

View Article Sources
  1. "Service Proposes to Reclassify Northern Long-Eared Bat as Endangered Under Endangered Species Act." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

  2. "White-Nose Syndrome (WNS)." University of Pennsylvania Vet.

  3. "Northern Long-Eared Bat." Center for Biological Diversity.

  4. "Northern Long-Eared Bats Proposed for Endangered Species Protection." Center for Biological Diversity.

  5. "Northern Long-Eared Bat (Myotis septentrionalis)." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.