A pack of Tennessee bats are movin’ on up in the world — the nonprofit conservation society The Nature Conservancy has built a man-made bat cave to give the animals a safe, clean home, in the hopes it will stop the spread of the deadly white nose syndrome. White nose syndrome is a fungal disease of brown bats caused by Geomyces destructans spores, and characterised by the white fungus on the nose and wings of bats.
This flesh-eating fungus damages the bats’ wings, causing them to wake up during their hibernation period. This burns their fat reserves quickly and the bats either starve to death or go out looking for food and die from the cold exposure. Since it was discovered in 2006 white nose syndrome has killed about 5.5 million bats according to estimates from state and federal wildlife officials.
The Tennessee chapter of The Nature Conservancy has made an artificial bat cave in order to reduce the amount of G. destructans spores littering the bats’ home while they hibernate. The cave is 78 feet long and 11 feet high, beneath four feet of dirt made of modified road culverts and is equipped with bat friendly features.
There are curled fan belts and netting for grey and Indiana bats, and crevices in the walls for eastern small-footed bats. There are also air conditioning units to drop the cave’s temperature to the required range, a rainwater pipe to maintain humidity and provide drinking water, and a chimney to provide ventilation. There is also surveillance equipment to keep an eye on the bats without any human disruption.
Photo: The Nature Conservancy
The cave was built in Tennessee because it is home to about 260,000 bats from 16 species, and is the state with the most documented caves.A pre-existing cave was not able to be disinfected from these spores due to fears of damaging the cave ecosystem where insects, fish, and amphibians also live. The bats will be lured to the cave by playing bat calls using ultrasonic speakers.
During the spring when the bats leave the cave it will be cleaned to keep the spore count low. If this is successful it can become a model for other projects around the country to help save the bats.
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