There are over 1000 known species of bats, just about a fourth of all mammal species. Bats are a vital part of our ecosystem eating many crop damaging insects such as stink beetles and leafhoppers as well as pollinating fruit trees. Nearly 40% of American bat species are in severe decline or already listed as endangered or threatened.
The Indigo Tunnel located on the Western Maryland Rail Trail near Hancock, Maryland is home to eight species of hibernating bats including the Maryland state endangered Eastern small-fotted myotis (Myotis leibii), and the federally endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis).
White Nose Syndrome
The C&O Canal NHP has worked actively with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to monitor this site, paying close attention to the threat of White Nose Syndrome (WNS). WNS is caused by a cold-loving fungus that grows on bats when they are hibernating. The fungus found on the muzzles, wings, and exposed skin tissues disrupts the normal hibernating pattern causing bats to arouse too frequently and starve to death.
The Indigo Tunnel was studied in March 2010 and no signs of WNS were found. In order to prevent the possible spread of WNS and protect hibernating bats, the tunnel is closed to the public. Bat gates have been installed at both ends of the tunnel to ensure bat safety.