By B. Adam Burke
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– White nose syndrome is the scourge of bat colonies worldwide. The disease was first tracked out of a cave in Europe, where larger bat species have been able to resist its effects and survive winters.
In Iowa and the U.S., micro-bats swarm the evening air, vacuuming up and devouring their weight in insects each night.
But with a lower body weight, micro-bats have a harder time fighting off the fungal infections from white nose syndrome.
The first known case of white nose syndrome in Iowa was spotted in Maquoketa Caves in June, according to Pella Wildlife Company’s Ron DeArmond, a conservator who presented a live brown bat and a six-week old bobcat during his talk at the Sugar Bottom Campground Amphitheatre on June 30.
Iowa is home to eight bat species, including little and big brown bats, eastern and Indiana bats. DeArmond brought out one little brown bat that stayed glued to his hand as he walked through the crowd of about 50 people.
Micro-bats in Iowa are mouse-sized and can live 15 to 20 years.
DeArmond encouraged the audience of about 50 people to build bat houses– small wooden structures placed 15 feet off the ground– and to take inventory of bats around them and report the numbers to Pella Wildlife Company or the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Bats save an estimated $50 billion in pest damage across the U.S., and Iowa bats save up to $2 billion in insect damage to crops.
But white nose syndrome could eventually wipe out North American bats, DeArmond said.
In a worst case scenario, he said, many species of micro-bats might be extinct in 10 to 15 years. In the best case, bats might take 100 years to recover to previous numbers.
He spent the majority of his time discussing the effects of white nose syndrome on Iowa bats but he also showed off the star attraction of the night; a six-week old bobcat.
DeArmond started Pella Wildlife Company (PWC) three years ago and added staff member Dr. Kristy Burns, a wildlife anthropologist, two years ago.
Burns handled the bob-kitten as DeArmond talked about the return of bigger cats like the bobcat and cougar to Iowa and the Midwest. Bobcats mostly hunt rodents and rabbits, but will also find larger prey like stray pets.
Burns said she thought about a dozen cougars live in Iowa currently.
No human has ever been attacked by a bobcat, DeArmond noted.
At the end of the talk, Burns put the tiny bat away and brought out the bobcat again to the delight of the crowd, Attendees were allowed to pet the bobcat’s back as Burns held it.
DeArmond will visit northeast Iowa this summer as well, where a black bear was recently spotted near the Minnesota-Iowa border.
PWC operates a wildlife education center in Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines. The group moved there from Pella to reach a wider audience. PWC offers schools, clubs, Scout troops and other groups a first-hand look at their wildlife ambassadors including cougars, bobcats, lynx, wolves, foxes, skunks and porcupines. More about PWC can be found at its website: www.pellawildlifecompany.org .
The interpretative campground program presented by the PWC was part of an ongoing education series offered this summer by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Coralville Lake, with programs free and open to the public, whether camping or just visiting. Most sessions were presented at the Sugar Bottom Campground Amphitheatre, located north of North Liberty on Mehaffey Bridge Road on the north side of the Coralville Lake bridge.
The summer series has concluded for this year, but tours of the Coralville Dam can be arranged on Saturdays through Labor Day. On Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, the visitor center can be reached at 319-338-3543, ext. 6300, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.