Creating comfy bat homes

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The endangered Indiana bat measures only 3.5 inches long and weighs less than two nickels.
The endangered Indiana bat measures only 3.5 inches long and weighs less than two nickels.
Artificial bat roost trees are installed at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park near West Jefferson.
Artificial bat roost trees are installed at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park near West Jefferson.

(Posted March 27, 2015)

By Whitney Coy, Staff Writer

One endangered species of bats will hopefully find a comfortable new home at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park during the coming months.

The Indiana bat, listed as a federally endangered species in 1967 and believed to have declined in numbers by more than 50 percent since then, will soon emerge from hibernation in caves and look for places to roost during the warmer months. The nocturnal animal typically spends its days hanging from the bark of trees. The problem is, tree bark even-tually dies and falls off, leaving the bats without a comfortable place to live.

To help solve that problem, the park recently installed five artificial bat roost trees—basically, telephone poles wrapped in artificial bark

According to Carrie Morrow, assistant resource manager at Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks, the park is the first location in Ohio to try out this new bat habitat.

The parks discovered artificial bat roost trees after a New York environ-mental consulting group found great success with initial trials of the trees

“With these artificial bat roost trees, we are happy to supplement the bat trees we already have in the park,” said Morrow. “And with this artificial bark, we don’t have to worry about it coming off.”

Indiana bats

Most bats are small, but Indiana bats are especially tiny. According to the National Wildlife Federation, they are only about 3.5 in length, with a wingspan of 9.5-10.5 inches. Adults typically weigh about one quarter of an ounce, less than the weight of two nickels.

Because the bats are so small, a huge number of them can live in one roosting tree.

“They’ve been known to have 300 to 400 bats living in one tree,” said Morrow.

If the five new roosting trees are a success, thousands of bats could find summer homes in the park.

A species in trouble

When the Indiana bat species started to decline in numbers, most of the blame was placed on human disturbances to hibernation. These days, however, most of their troubles come in the form of disease. Indiana bats, along with many other bat species, are falling victim to white nose syndrome, an issue scientists aren’t sure how to fight.

The disease is easily recognizable by the white fungus that appears on the face, ears and wings of the bats. Infected bats use fat stores quicker during hibernation, causing them to wake earlier when their food supply of insects isn’t readily available. Bats who wake while it’s still winter will likely die of starvation.

According to the National Wildlife Health Center, millions of bats in 25 states have died as a result of white nose syndrome since the winter of 2007-2008.

Since there hasn’t been much headway in preventing this rapidly spreading disease, it’s important to help healthy bats thrive.

Why bats are important

Bats are so much more than nighttime pests. Since they dine on night-flying insects, they eliminate huge numbers of bothersome insects like mosquitoes, as well as crop-eating insects that effect food supply and costs.

The National Wildlife Health Center lists the value of insect suppression services provided to farmers by bats at anywhere from $4 billion to $50 billion per year. This means that if bat populations continue to decline, food costs will likely see a big increase.

Future plans for artificial bat roosts

So far, there are no plans to install more artificial bat roosts in other Metro Parks.

“We’re just going to wait and see if these are successful first,” said Morrow.

The wait won’t be long.

“Indiana bats usually start returning in April,” she said.

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