Going to bat for bats

There are four main endangered species of bats in the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest. They all depend on the caves and protected areas of the national forest for their survival. One of them, the gray myotis, is rarely spotted. These cave dwellers have always been hard to please, but with more recent human development, they have been abandoning the caves they struggled to find in the first place.

Gray bats can only use 0.1% of available caves in the winter. Ninety-five percent of the total gray bat population hibernates in only eight or nine caves.

This already limited habitat has become less hospitable to these bats because of human disturbances. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, if a bat is woken up too soon during hibernation, it will fly out of the cave, deplete its energy source, and die of starvation or cold before it can make it back. Likewise, if a female bat holding its flightless young becomes frightened by a human, she may drop her baby to flee a predator.

For their size, bats are among the world’s slowest reproducing mammal. And because they only have one offspring at a time, infant mortality is a major issue. Additionally, floods have taken over many suitable caves, driving bats out of their homes. While floods can’t always be helped, avoiding caves that house bats can be a huge help to their numbers. Commercialization and incorrect gate installation have also been factors in habitat destruction for these bats.

Why should we care? Because one bat can catch up to 3,000 insects in a night. They also play an important role in checking insect populations and limiting the spread of insect-borne diseases. These mammals deserve our protection, and the 1.1-million-acre Pisgah National forest provides key habitat for the gray myotis and other endangered bats.