by William R. Elliott and Richard L. Clawson
Courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation P.O. Box 180 Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180
Many people have asked us how to identify bats roosting in caves. Most published bat keys are based on physical characteristics that can be seen only by handling the bat. No one should handle bats or get too close to them unless one is a) a biologist conducting research, and trained to handle bats safely (both to the human and the bat), and b) vaccinated against rabies. It is possible, however, to accurately identify most bats in caves without unduly disturbing them.
We have constructed this guide to the common Missouri cave bats using behavioral, environmental, and physical characteristics such as clustering, coloration, posture, preferred microhabitat, and so on. The sizes of the various bats will be presented in comparison to the eastern pipistrelle because pipistrelles are found in nearly all of the caves of Missouri and thus are familiar to most cavers. This guide is primarily designed for the colder months of the yearly cycle because six species of bats commonly hibernate in Missouri caves, but only the endangered gray bat occupies caves in any numbers during the summer.
Note: Please do not disturb roosting bats. If you encounter a large colony you almost certainly have stumbled upon endangered bats. Their populations have declined despite their clustering behavior. Please do not shine your light on the cluster(s) of bats, and leave the area quickly and quietly. Bats are under stress right now. There is a new disease called White Nose Syndrome is killing huge numbers of bats in the United States. It has now spread into Missouri. Read more and see a map of White Nose Syndrome's spread here.
Watch the video series Bats in Crisis, about White Nose Syndrome in the National Parks.
We hope this guide will prove useful. Please give us your comments!
At or Near the Cave Entrance
Big brown bat: Largest bat in Missouri caves (several times larger than the eastern pipistrelle); common in winter, likes attics in summer; frequently roosts singly in holes in cave wall or ceiling, may be in pairs, sometimes forms clusters (of up to a dozen) during severe cold snaps; long, glossy, dark brown fur; ears broad with rounded tips; dark, dog-like muzzle; tragus (flap inside ear) broad and rounded.
Twilight Zone and Farther into Cave