Bat Decline from White-Nose Syndrome, New Faunal Records, Flood Damage

scientists in cave measuring bat colony on ceiling
Bat census in OZAR: A new gray bat site is photographed using a plastic grid for easy counting later. Photo courtesy of CRF.

Submitted by Scott House, Ozarks Operation Manager for Cave Research Foundation

Our fears of bat decline were realized this past winter. Hardest hit were three species: pipistrelles, or tri-colored, (P. subflavus), northern long-eared bats (M. septentrionalis), and little browns (M. lucifugus) showed great declines with scarcely any septentrionalis showing up during this past winter’s census. The park’s educational tour cave, Round Spring Cavern, had a substantial drop in subflavus; two years ago there were over 500 counted, this year only 62.

Of the 88 caves monitored since the beginning of October, 39 had at least some bats. So the news was not all bad. For the most part, the Indiana bat (M. sodalis) and the gray bat (M. grisescens) were stable in their hibernacula, and a few showed some increases. One of our three, priority-one, gray bat caves showed a stable population of approximately 150,000 sleepers. However, with increasingly warm winters, many simply were not sleeping. Some grays showed up in their transient sites before March 1st. Further, active snakes were noted in or near several caves, even in January, not a normal occurrence. Another strange occurrence was the appearance of feral hogs using a minor sodalis hibernaculum for a den (the problem is being addressed).

scientist in cave collecting samples
Derek Saffle swabs a substrate near hibernating bats. Photo courtesy of CRF.

Two years ago, a major additional gray bat hibernation colony was located within a known hibernaculum. This past winter confirmed the occurrence; overall this increases this site’s gray bat population from ~2000 individuals to ~40,000, making it another priority one site for the park. The site is on private land, on which the park owns an easement.

Archaeological site monitoring continued this past year with a number of new sites being recorded. Probable petroglyphs were recorded at one site, part of a multi-cave complex.

Nearly 400 new cave faunal records have been added thus far in 2017. In conjunction with the Missouri Speleological Survey’s Missouri Cave Database, the total number of cave faunal records from the park now numbers over 5000. Some of these records are 80 years old.

grotto salamander
A juvenile grotto salamander (a species of concern)

Following the Christmas 2015 major flood, an even more devastating flood hit the park at the end of April 2017. Over 100 park buildings sustained major damage or were destroyed, including our Powder Mill Research Center. Efforts are underway to repair or replace buildings as funding allows. Several cave gates were impacted and a major goal in late summer will be to examine gray bat maternal sites to see if the populations were affected; the possibility is that several were severely impacted by the flash flood.

A biological survey of several large stream caves was finished by Cave Research Foundation. Several cartographic surveys of long stream caves continue; two caves have hit the one mile mark and are not yet quite finished.

One more cave was gated to protect important resources. This cave is also being surveyed with over 2,600 feet of twisting, confusing passage mapped. Another cave gate (really a fence) was repaired and two other gates had small repairs done to them.

cave salamander
A cave salamander in Round Spring Cavern exhibits its curious behavior of mud-diving to lay eggs.
Black rat snake
A black rat snake wintering in an OZAR cave.
Fishing spider
Fishing spider.

Last updated: September 19, 2017