Bucks County Bats in Crisis

Little Brown Bat in Durham Bat Mine

Heritage Conservancy acquired the Durham Mine Bat Hibernaculum and the surrounding 90.5-acre property from the Rattlesnake and Mine Hill Wildlife Preservation Trust in 2002 for the purposes of ensuring the protection of the bat population’s hibernating haven. Located in Durham Township, Bucks County, this area is listed in the 1999 Bucks County’s Natural Areas Inventory as a Priority #1 site of state-wide and county-wide significance.

In February 2008, the Pennsylvania Game Commission ascertained a conservative count of 8,030 bats in hibernation in the mineshafts including five species: the northern long-eared bat, the eastern pipistrelle, the little brown bat, the big brown bat and the small-footed bat.

In the fall of 2009, White Nose Syndrome (WNS), was discovered in the Durham Mine. First diagnosed in Albany, NY in 2007, this newly emerged infectious disease affects all hibernating bats species and has a 96% total mortality rate. In less than 24 months infection has spread to ten states and 500 miles from the epicenter. The majority of experts investigating WNS believe that the recently identified fungus, Geomyces destructans, is the causative agent. Since North American bats have no natural resistance, it is likely that within two years every site in Pennsylvania will be affected.

The Conservancy is working with the PA Game Commission and biologists from Bucknell University and the University of Kentucky to study the Durham Mine’s infected population in an attempt to learn more about WNS. They will also be testing several natural compounds that have been know to be effective in fighting the fungus, and modes of deployment to treat large populations in a cave setting.

Bats are vital to the region’s ecology. A little brown bat can consume up to 1,200 insects per hour in a six-hour feeding period – thus helping farmers and residents keep harmful insect populations under control. According to Bat Conservation International, bats are the most endangered land mammals in North America, suffering from habitat loss, environmental pollution and vandalism in caves. While the gating of the Durham Bat Mine has increased the protection of this important colony, our permanent protection of the critical area around the mine ensures that future land uses are limited to conservation, environmental education and maintenance of the existing residential use.

To help combat the impact of WNS, residents are asked to report anything suspicious, such as a dead bat or bats found flying in winter to the State Game Commission at 610-926-3136 or http://www.pgc.state.pa.us/. Heritage Conservancy staff is also encouraging Upper Bucks residents and officials to contact the Conservancy to learn how to install bat boxes on their properties, as they will provide the Durham bats with safe places to raise their pups in the summer months.