There are over 1000 known species of bats, representing about a quarter of all mammal species. Bats are a vital part of our ecosystem, eating many nuisance and crop-damaging insects, and some even provide pollination services for plants. Many North American bat species are in severe decline or already listed as endangered or threatened, due in part from habitat loss and disease.
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-Footed Myotis (Myotis leibii), the federally threatened Northern Long-Eared Bat (Myotis septentrionalis), and the federally endangered Indiana Bat (Myotis sodalis). Researchers from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources have found that the C&O Canal contains some of the best hibernaculum, or overwintering refuges, for bats in the region.
The C&O Canal actively works with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to monitor this site, paying close attention to the threat of white nose syndrome. This disease is caused by a cold-loving fungus that grows on bats when they are hibernating. The fungus, found on the muzzle, wings, and exposed skin tissues, disrupts the normal hibernating pattern and can cause bats to starve. 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. For more information on white nose syndrome, please visit https://www.nps.gov/articles/what-is-white-nose-syndrome.htm.