Over the past decade, bat populations have been devastated due to white-nose syndrome, a highly contagious and deadly disease with no known cure.
In 2021, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) began a partnership with Illinois’ electric cooperatives to begin placing bat roosts across the state to create maternity colonies to help boost bat populations.
That fall, six roosting structures, consisting of fake bark wrapped around old utility poles, were installed at the Embarras River Bottom State Habitat Area by a line crew from Norris Electric Cooperative.
During summer 2022, IDNR discovered that several of these structures were being utilized by bats. The department collected the guano (bat feces) at the base of the poles and submitted it to the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) for DNA analysis.
“The results are interesting, in that it seems multiple species are utilizing these structures,” said Mark Davis in an email. The conservation biologist with INHS confirmed that one sample was a match with the Indiana bat, a federally endangered species.
In addition to the Indiana bat, DNA also matched the big brown bat and the hoary bat.
“The confirmation of hoary bat is highly unusual, and contrary to what we think we know about roosting in the species,” Davis said. “More investigation is required, but the DNA results are unequivocal.”
In addition to the locations in Norris Electric Cooperative’s service territory, two other electric co-ops have recently erected bat habitats. Adams Electric Cooperative placed four roosting structures in Brown County, and Wayne-White Counties Electric Cooperative installed four in a nature preserve in Edwards County.
IDNR will continue to monitor these bat roosts and is currently in discussion with Egyptian Electric Cooperative Association and SouthEastern Illinois Electric Cooperative to scout locations in their service territories.
On Nov. 29, 2022, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the northern long-eared bat on the federal endangered species list. This is due to the sharp decline of the bat species’ population, directly caused by white-nose syndrome. Currently, three of the 13 bat species native to Illinois are in danger of becoming extinct.
To read more about the project, go to icl.coop/up-to-bat-for-bats.