Why is the park interested in bats?
Bats are an important part of ecosystems and food webs. Though some species of bats feed on fruit, seeds, or pollen, the species that live in Virginia are insectivores. They consume huge numbers of insects every night, filling a unique ecosystem role as nocturnal insect predators. Unfortunately, a new disease called white-nose syndrome is affecting bats across the United States. To better protect bats, biologists are studying how local bat populations are changing.
- Recent monitoring detected nine species of bats in the park, including two federally threatened or endangered species.
- White-nose syndrome has negatively affected several of these species.
- The park is providing important bat habitat, particularly for state endangered tri-colored bats (Perimyotis subflavus) and little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus).
How do biologists study bats? What have they learned about bats in the park?
Biologists have creative ways of studying these unique animals. Bats use echolocation to navigate and catch insect prey during the dark of night. People can’t hear these bat calls, so biologists use special microphones, called acoustic detectors, to record the sounds. By analyzing the bat calls, biologists can identify which specific bat species are present in an area during certain times of the year.
From 2016-2017, scientists used acoustic detectors to document nine species of bats in the park. The two most commonly detected bats were tri-colored bats and little brown bats. This is surprising since both of these species are state endangered and have suffered tremendous recent declines due to white-nose syndrome. Their high activity levels indicate that the park might provide important summer habitat for these rare species.