Nestled inside two caves in the Alberta foothills, researchers have found a total of 103 hibernating bats. Specifically, they are little brown bats and northern myotis, species listed as endangered in Canada.

The discovery was made by BatCaver, an effort between Wildlife Conservation Society Canada (WCS) and experienced cavers who work together to locate caves where bats hibernate. Knowing where bats hibernate is important for understanding what areas need habitat conservation to protect these important species.

"Northern myotis were observed as single bats, but the little browns were in clusters of up to 42 individuals. Northern myotis tend to tuck away into rock crevices, so it is likely that more exist in the caves than were counted," writes WCS.

Knowing locations of hibernating bats will give scientists a lead in preventing or combating white-nose syndrome if and when it arrives.

The Calgary Sun reports, "Since 2006, white-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats in the eastern United States and five eastern provinces in Canada — and experts suggest it's only a matter of time before it hits Western Canada."

"Even hibernacula with small numbers of bats give us new information about the type of winter habitat each species requires," says Dr. Cori Lausen. "Bats disappear underground for a significant amount of time each year, and with the help of cavers, each new discovered location puts us one step closer to solving the mystery of what our many species of bats do each winter."

It also puts us a step closer to potentially beating white-nose syndrome before it becomes a problem for these bats.

According to Bat Conservation International, white-nose syndrome has killed nearly 6 million bats since hitting North America in 2006, and some winter colonies have been entirely wiped out. "Since bats are the primary predators of night-flying insects, we can expect to see significant ecosystem changes in the coming years," reports BCI.

Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.

2 caves containing endangered bats discovered in Canada
The find is key to figuring out what habitat must be protected to help keep these important and vulnerable mammals safe.