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Cave Bats

Bats are mammals, and members of the order Chiroptera. They are the second largest order of mammals in number of species. There are about 1000 species of bats, 14 of which live in Missouri. Of these, 9 are commonly found in caves.

Cave Bats

Cave Bats

For many of these species, caves provide the only habitats at which critical life functions necessary for their survival can occur.This statement of recommended policy and practices for the conservation and management of cave-dwelling bats has been prepared to provide guidance to land managers and those who visit caves.

There are also bats that fly and hunt for food during the day. They sleep outdoors at night in trees, under bridges and other locations. Unlike nocturnal bats, they have well-developed eyes and poorly developed echolocation.

Life Cycle : Some appear to use caves only occasionally or opportunistically bats , there are many species of bats that have a greater dependence on caves (or substitute environments such as mines and water tunnels) as daytime roosts. It appears that the caves selected by each species provide the right conditions for them to maintain their body temperature in specific seasons of the year.

Thus, the specific caves chosen, as well as specific sites within a cave, often vary from season to season for each species, because they provide conditions critical for survival throughout the species’ annual lifecycle.

Cave Bats

Cave Bats

Important time of year for many cave-dwelling bat species is winter, a time when food resources are severely limited, and there is a need to conserve energy. The most important way that bats conserve energy at these times is to enter into periods of torpor or hibernation. (Torpor is, in many ways, a ‘mild’ form of hibernation.) This involves allowing their body temperature to drop close to the ambient air temperature in the cave, thus saving large amounts of energy.

Many bat species select caves or parts of caves with the best conditions for over-wintering. However, arousal from torpor or hibernation uses large amounts of energy. Experience has shown that frequent human disturbance of torpid or hibernating bats can cause severe stress and even the death of the affected bats.

The death of numerous cave bats was first noticed in New York state caves during 2006. The dead and dying bats had a white fungus growing on their muzzle and wing bones. The name “White Nose Syndrome” (WNS) was given to the strange malady. It’s not known at this time whether the fungus actually kills the bat or just settles on sick ones.

The malady was later detected in a Vermont cave; then in old mines in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and then this winter (2008/ 2009) it has been found on bats in Pendleton County WV and Bath, Giles, and Highland counties in VA.

Cave Bats

Cave Bats

In line with a recommendation by the state DNR, the Natural Resources board voted to declare the bats a threatened species and to designate the fungus that causes a deadly disease to the furry creatures a prohibited invasive species.

White-nose syndrome is a disease characterized by a white fuzz that grows on the bats’ fur. It has not shown up in Wisconsin but has been found in other states including New York three years ago. The disease weakens and kills bats during the winter while they are hibernating in caves and mines. Wisocnsin has the largest cave bat populations in the Upper Midwest.

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