July 20, 2024
In this B.C. mansion, a massive bat colony hangs on for dear life
Scientists are keenly watching the Burrvilla bat colony, believed to be B.C.’s largest, for the deadly white-nose syndrome. If it arrives, all they can do is hope the killer fungus shows mercy.
Scientists are keenly watching the Burrvilla bat colony, believed to be B.C.’s largest, for the deadly white-nose syndrome. If it arrives, all they can do is hope the killer fungus shows mercy.

The nets are strung before dusk, feeding time for about 1,500 famished female bats already chirping in their attic roost in Burrvilla House, a historic farmhouse in Deas Island Regional Park, south of Vancouver. As the sky darkens to indigo, bats pour from the rafters to chase swarms of equally famished mosquitoes. The Burrvilla bat colony, believed to be B.C.’s largest, is home to two species, Little brown myotis and Yuma myotis. Mature females raise their single pups in the attic and by summer’s end, as many as 3,000 bats will cohabit in the Burrvilla mansion. For the past three years, the South Coast Bat Conservation Society with the help of mostly volunteer biologists has monitored this colony for white-nose syndrome, a disease that has decimated bat populations in Eastern Canada and parts of the United States. But to study bats, one must first catch them. The nets used for this are positioned between two tall bushes framing the driveway, a flight path so familiar to the bats that many won’t bother to turn on their echolocation navigational system, making them less likely to detect the nets.

Suddenly, bats are everywhere. Some skirt the trap and blast past at eye level. The uninitiated instinctively duck—needlessly, because bats are agile and easily spot people. The first bat to strike the fine mesh net ricochets off and lands on the ground stunned, where a biologist scoops it into a soft cotton bag. The second gets stuck, followed over the next hour by about 30 more. Patrick Burke, a wildlife ecologist with the society, deftly untangles a feisty Little brown myotis. It promptly sinks its fangs into his gloved hand. The bat’s body is the size of a small field mouse and its teeth are practically microscopic, but bats can carry rabies. Burke’s vaccinations are up to date. He gently blows on the animal’s face until it releases its grip and pops it into a bag unharmed. Volunteers run the bats to a building next door for tagging and health testing. The youngest is nine-year-old Caelum Chiem who has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things batty. His parents let him stay up late for the event. “I love bats. I read books and watch documentaries about them,” he says.

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See Also:

(1) Why do Canadians have a thing for mythical lake monsters?

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