MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A new bat species has been discovered in Wisconsin for the first time in more than 60 years.
Department of Natural Resources officials say researchers discovered the new species, known as an evening bat, living in the hollow of trees in Avon Bottoms State Natural Area in Rock County.
Department researcher Heather Kaarakka and other researchers who discovered the bats were studying summer habitats of other species that are vulnerable to white-nose syndrome, a deadly disease that has killed millions of bats across the country, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
The estimated 160 evening bats were found in two trees about five miles north of the Wisconsin-Illinois border in June and July. They don’t appear to be harmed by white-nose syndrome.
Department officials say the discovery is the first new bat species found in the state since 1954 when an Indiana bat was found. It was the only time that species was seen, and attempts to find it in the 1980s and 1990s weren’t successful.
“We expected new species of invertebrates and insects, where maybe there isn’t a lot of research going on,” said Owen Boyle, natural heritage conservation species section chief for the department. “But for mammals and birds, the bar is higher and a new discovery is more significant because they are much more studied.”
Evening bats range as far north as Illinois, and the researchers discovered a single juvenile male in the same area last summer.
This year, the researchers found the first evening bat by trapping it in a mist net. They then attached a small radio-tracking device to it and followed the bat to a tree with other evening bats.
The discovery brings the number of bat species known to inhabit Wisconsin to eight.
It’s not clear why the new species showed up in the area, but Boyle said that one explanation is the void left by the death of bats susceptible to white-nose syndrome.
The fungus of the disease has killed an estimated 5.7 million to 6.7 million bats since it was first discovered in the eastern U.S. in 2006. The department says the bat population in Wisconsin is stable so far.