OLIVE HILL – You won’t find Batman in the Bat Cave, but you will find a bat that weighs as little as three pennies. The Indiana Bat, weighing in at a quarter of an ounce, groups tightly together in little clusters along the walls at Carter Caves State Resort Park. It has become a critical site for this federally endangered species.
“It is probably one of the more import bat hibernacula sites in the Eastern U.S.,” said Naturalist Paul Tierney.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported in their 2019 Indiana Bat population status update that Bat Cave is one of the top 5 largest hibernaculum sites. Although named for them, Bat Cave was not their original location. They were believed to have resided in Saltpeter Cave but left due to the mining and commercialization.
The most recent threat to the Indiana bat population is white-nose syndrome (WNS). WNS is a fungus that only affects bats but can be spread by humans. The disease was first discovered in New York in 2006 and has killed over a million bats. It has no known cure.
Zach Couch from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife said that research is being done to understand how it works.
“When bats go into hibernation they only have a limited amount of fat reserve to get them through the winter,” he said. “Ultimately the bats we find usually are emaciated and also dehydrated during that time of year.”
WNS is thought to be an irritant that causes them to be active during hibernation and deplete their fat reserve faster, said Couch. Efforts are being made to decrease the chances of it transferring from cave to cave. Parks with caves are required to have a decontamination station. It is a Lysol and water mixture that people walk through in order to remove the fungus from shoes.
“It has been a bat that has been on the decline however, over the past several counts, over the past 6 years we have discovered that it seems as though the Indiana bat has kind of stabilized at least for our site,” said Tierney.
The report also said Kentucky is in the top five largest state of Indiana bat loss since 2007, seeing a 21 percent decrease. Tierney said he is hopeful about the future of the Indiana bats at Carter Caves.
“With the white-nose syndrome that has been rushing across the United States,” said Tierney. “We are very hopeful that perhaps they are becoming resistant to it here.”