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Battle for the Bats: White-nose syndrome hits Newfoundland
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Battle for the Bats: White-nose syndrome hits Newfoundland

We silently crouched in a small open field, eyes strained and scanning the horizon as the last of  the sun’s rays dipped from view. In the midst of summer, we waited on the outskirts of a small coastal town in Newfoundland, ready for the action to begin. A cacophony of squeaks vibrated through the air above, before a lone furry silhouette darted into the night. Finally, the moment we were waiting for is here. One by one, the bats emerged from a hole in the side of an old building, no bigger than an inch. It was surrealbefore us flew countless acrobats, twisting and gliding through the air. As the mosquitoes buzzed around our awestruck faces, a bat suddenly swooped in from behind me to snap up the insect, barely a foot away from my face. The only evidence of the encounter was the lingering gust of wind from its passing wingbeat. I had never seen so many bats in my entire life as almost a hundred took to the night sky. It’s hard to imagine that soon this roost will be all but wiped out. This sobering thought is all because of a seemingly small and insignificant fungusa white fluffy organism that grows on a handful of bat species. This fungus is at the heart of white-nose syndrome, an epidemic that is single-handedly decimating bat populations across the continent. Once a bat is infected, the disease causes them to wake up mid-hibernation. Caught in the cold of winter, they quickly run through their energy stores before the relief of spring. Mortality rates in infected hibernacula can range upwards of 75%, meaning that entire roosts can be wiped out in a single season.  For a long time, white-nose syndrome was landlocked, reaching from Manitoba to the Maritimes. With Newfoundland separated from mainland Canada, scientists hoped that the island could act as an ideal bat refuge. However, in 2018, in a tranquil town only a ten-minute drive from the roost I was in awe of, one of the first recorded cases of white-nose syndrome in Newfoundland was discovered. The beginning of the end. With the disease able to spread over 200 kilometres per year, it won’t be long until the entire island is impacted. It’s hard to imagine returning to this spot next year with baited breath, to see if this currently vibrant roost has become yet another casualty. The odds aren't looking good. The loss of these bats can be even more keenly felt than just being a lost source of wonder. They are integral not only to the ecosystem, but to us humans. For example, as the bats swooped and swirled around us, they were picking off the mosquitoes diligently attacking any exposed skin. While some southern bat species are fruit-eaters and excellent pollinators, bats in Canada exclusively eat insects. They consume thousands of bugs, not only making them an important part of the food chain, but also phenomenal natural pest controllers. As bat numbers dwindle, this means that more insects are making it to our plants and crops, therefore negatively impacting the agricultural industry. The devastating reach of white-nose syndrome extends far beyond the roost. There is currently no cure for white-nose syndrome. I can not begin to describe how hard it is to write this—it feels like too hopeless of a statement to voice out loud. However, scientists are racing to find a solution. Some strategies include using bacteria, UV light, or chemicals to prevent fungal growth. While these methods haven’t found widespread success, at least they offer a glimmer of hope that we may be able to save these bat species. While scientists are working to find the cure, there is plenty that we, as citizen scientists, can do to help. For example, The Canadian Wildlife Federation has outlined a myriad of ways that we can be heroes for bats; from reporting bat sightings on iNaturalist, to adding plants to the garden that attract bats’ prey, there’s no limit to the ways you can make a difference. If you live in the Ottawa area, you can even borrow Nature Canada’s bat detectors and conduct your own bat surveys in your neighbourhood. Another way to help is to add bat boxes to your property. These shelters provide useful roosting sites, especially in urban centers where suitable habitats are in low supply. There are still many of ways to fight back. As I look back on my mesmerizing bat encounter, I choose to remember it as a wakeup call. A chance for me to get active and get this story out there. To give a voice to the countless wings that darted around me on that summer night. It’s easy to fall into a stupor of hopelessness, where we choose inaction as the easiest pathafter all, why bother trying to solve the seemingly unfixable? It’s by us standing up, raising awareness, and caring that makes all the difference. It’s time to battle for the bats.

Catching Nature’s Bug
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Catching Nature’s Bug

[caption id="attachment_21828" align="alignleft" width="154"]Jodi and Noah Jodi Joy
Director of Development[/caption] Last month, while cleaning out a file I came upon a printed copy of our popular Lady Beetle Survey from nearly 20 years ago. It was our organization’s first project involving citizen scientists surveying for native lady beetles in Canada and helped us raise awareness about the importance of insects in the web of life. Low and behold a few days later I got a delightful email from one of our members, Linda asking for a copy of that very Lady Beetle guide. She let me know that she joined Nature Canada because of the wonderful experience of participating in the survey with her children years ago... [caption id="attachment_21800" align="alignright" width="200"]Lady Beetle Lady Beetle[/caption] “I now find myself wanting to initiate my grandson into the wonders of nature and cannot find my poster of the native Ladybird Beetles nor another of similar quality on the Internet. I have not seen a native Ladybird Beetle in several years as the Asian version proliferated by garden centres has rendered them impossible to locate. If you can help me in any way I would greatly appreciate it. I am a monthly donor to Nature Canada and am proud to be a member!” I thought “Wow” – what great timing, I had just scanned a version of the paper copy and could immediately email it to her so she could use with her grandson right away. I thanked her too for being such a dedicated member supporting us for over two decades! But especially for caring so much about nature to pass her love of nature on first to her children and now to her grandson. It just made my heart soar to know that. She replied that: “I'm planning on printing a copy of the poster so my grandson and I can hunt Ladybugs in my back yard. He lives in Toronto and although he has a small yard, it isn't nearly as "buggy" as Grandma’s Napanee yard which borders on a huge green space.  I joined Nature Canada because of an interview I saw on the now long gone "At Discovery.ca", a science based news magazine show from the early '90's. A fellow introduced the plight of the native Canadian Lady Beetle and that started a long and satisfying relationship that has encompassed a worm as well as a frog survey, and I still have the posters for those. My grandson has a lot of nature in store for him thanks to Nature Canada.” I hope others reading Linda’s story today will also consider taking time to get outside to walk hand-in- hand with your child or grandchild to show them all the critters and excitement in nature.

[caption id="attachment_21801" align="alignright" width="450"]A child exploring nature A child exploring nature[/caption] [caption id="attachment_21802" align="alignleft" width="300"]Boy looking through binoculars Boy looking through binoculars[/caption]
Linda tells me: “I am trying to impart my life-long love of Nature to my three year old grandson. He has a lust for knowledge and I have a wealth of natural history and many aspects of nature lore to pass on to him as my own mother did to me. It is indeed unfortunate that my mother is not alive to know the joy of her great grandson, but her knowledge and love of all things natural is alive in me and he will know her through me. He is well on his way to falling in love with Nature, not an easy task growing up in Toronto, but, as the saying goes, love will conquer all” If you would like to get a copy of the lady beetle poster by email or want to learn more about becoming involved with NatureWatch please visit our website to learn more.

Become a Citizen Scientist
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Become a Citizen Scientist

[separator headline="h3" title="Understanding the Environment Around Us"] As many of you know, these past few months we have been encouraging you to get out in nature and become a citizen scientist! With Summer comes the opportunity to go outside and monitor the plants, worms, and frogs found in your neighbourhood! Nature Canada has the opportunity for you to do this through the NatureWatch programs. These NatureWatch programs help scientist record data on the species in your neighbourhood and this then helps them understand the different effects climate change is having on them! With PlantWatch, scientists use the data you collect to see the trends with plants blooming. In FrogWatch, the data collected is used to help scientist understand the health of the environment.Frog WormWatch also helps scientist learn more about the biodiversity in the soil around your home. These three programs are very important in monitoring and understanding the environment around us! When is the best time to start monitoring these various species? Right now! Frogs are most vocal in the spring time with their mating calls and this is the best time to track them! In spring, frogs can be found conducting these mating calls in ponds where they announce their territory and hopefully attract a female. As well, plants are starting to or already have bloomed, so they are ready to be recorded! You can get involved with these great NatureWatch programs through our website! As well, you can participate in our other fantastic programs that get you involved with nature through your own backyard! This program is called YardMap and it allows you to map out all the components of your backyard. This data is put on a map along with other people’s recording so that more people, like researchers and scientists, can learn about the ecosystems in different communities! Make the most of your Summer by getting outside and enjoying nature!

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