What I’ve Been Up To Lately

You may have noticed that it has been weeks (dare I say months?) since I last posted anything to DTS.  While my aim was for one post a week, my average has been about one a month, but I managed to keep to that average even while in school and (briefly) working retail 25 hours a week.  So what’s been up lately that I’ve neglected my passion so heinously?

Well, the short story is that I: moved across town, got a degree, got a job, and got a dog.  So suffice it to say I’ve been a little busy with exams, moving, graduating, unpacking, working, driving to work, driving HOME from work, and dog walking/feeding/training.  But now I’m back!  I truly have missed my readers, and hopefully I haven’t lost any of you in my absence.  Let’s get down to business now – I want to tell you a little more about the work I’m doing with the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife.

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I work at Fort Delaware State Park, located on a small island in the Delaware river.  The park is home to a Civil 34149War era Union fort, and throughout the day historical interpreters (some dressed as though they hail from 1864) give talks, demonstrations, and tours about life on the fort, the Confederate prisoners kept there, and the muskets and artillery guns.  My job is to give guided tours of the south end of the fort.  The south end was mostly full of storage rooms and guns to defend the fort, and in the 1890s (during the Spanish-American war) a large concrete addition was added into the fort, giving this half a cave-like feel (and the incorrect nickname of ‘the dungeon’).  But don’t worry, this isn’t a history lesson.

The reason that the park needs a Fish and Wildlife representative to give these tours is because of the bats that frequent the island and the trouble they’ve been having.  In 2012, there was a confirmed instance of a deadly bat disease called White-nose SyndromeSo called because of the white fungal growth on the bats’ faces, white-nose syndrome (WNS) is thought to be caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans.  The fungus grows on their skin, mostly their wings and face which are not covered in fur, and has killed an estimate of over 5 million North American bats since it was first identified in America in 2006.  Interestingly enough, the bats are not dying because they’re overwhelmed with fungal growth.  Instead, the fungus irritates the bats’ skin so much that they wake up during the winter when they are supposed to be hibernating.  They groom themselves, scratch at their skin, and grab drinks of water while they’re awake, and by the time spring rolls around they’ve used up too much energy and they starve.  This behavioral change is causing a dramatic decline in the numbers of bats, and trust me, that’s not good news.

Bats eat lots of insects that humans consider pests.  They eat mosquitos and crop pests, and save the US an estimate of 2.3 billion dollars a year in pest control.  All the bats in North America eat bugs or flowers – none of them will bite or hurt humans.   This all means that we should really love our bats!

white_nose_syndrome_map_2013_1280Scientists still don’t understand WNS very well.  US Fish and Wildlife has implemented a national WNS Response Plan that works to conduct research, collect funding, and prevent human based spread from known WNS locations.  In Delaware we’re tracking the disease and keeping the numbers and locations of bat colonies documented, as well as doing our best to prevent the spread of WNS.

My job on the island is two fold.  We have large metal trays with pads of soapy water that guests have to walk through on their way out of the fort.  This helps to kill any spores of the fungus that might be trapped on their shoes.  Additionally, if guests want to tour the section of the fort that acts as a hibernacula for the bats, they have to wear plastic slipcovers over their shoes as an added precaution.  I manage all of this equipment with the goal of ‘preventing human-based spread’.

Additionally, I lead the tours through the south end of the fort.  It’s a really great opportunity to keep the whole fort open for viewing, and still manage the disease’s spread.  Additionally, this gives me and excellent opportunity to teach visitors to the park about bats, why they’re important, and what we’re doing about WNS.

For more information check out The Delaware Bat Program, or http://www.whitenosesyndrome.org, and if you’re local stop by Fort Delaware State Park some day this summer!

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So that’s what I’ve been up to, and now that it’s all settling down I promise I’ll be back with more posts ASAP!
Thanks to Doug Bowman and Flickr’s creative commons for the lovely picture of a bat.
Thanks also to Fort Delaware State Park and the state parks employees who work so hard to bring it to life.
And, as always, a special thank you to the masses of Wikipedia, for most of the background knowledge needed for this post.

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