Of the 65 other mammal species documented in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, bat species are the most commonly seen. All 11 species of bats in the park are insectivores–feeding on insects like mosquitoes, gnats & moths. Although bats can see, they hunt at night using echolocation–sending out high-pitched sounds and listening for echoes to detect the location of their favorite food.
Seven of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s species hibernate during colder months while the other four species migrate. The big brown bat, eastern red bat, and the Indianan bat are most commonly seen. The park protects the largest colony of the federally endangered Indiana myotis in the state of Tennessee.Where endangered Indiana Bats roost
Biologists are just beginning a year-long project to study the roosting ecology of endangered Indiana bats and northern long-eared bats. The project will take researchers into the hills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its neighbors, the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. These areas are at the southern edge of the Indiana bat’s range in the United States.
In these coldest months of the winter, lead researcher Joy O’Keefe and collaborator Dr. Susan Loeb of the Southern Research Station, U.S. Forest Service will hire forestry technicians and prepare radio telemetry equipment. Beginning in June, they will conduct mist net surveys. They will carefully identify each bat’s species, sex, and age, and then measure forearm length and weight.
To mark the bats, researchers will place a unique band on each bat’s leg (see pic left), and glue a tiny radio transmitter between its shoulder blades. This transmitter will allow the researchers to track the bats’ movements during the day, to figure out which trees they choose for day roosts.
Ultimately, the biologists hope to figure out why bats choose the trees they do. This is important to know because many forest management decisions in National Parks and Forests revolve around protecting the endangered Indiana bat. It’s harder to protect an animal when we don’t know where, or why, the animal chooses the habitats it does.
In August, the researchers hope to have enough data collected to describe where the bats roost; the characteristics of the trees that they chose; the number, health, and sex of bats in each colony; how far the bats go between roost trees; and what the bats do in between the times they roost.
Most of the caves in the park provide critical bat habitat. Because bats can be harmed by human disturbance in these caves, visitors are prohibited from entering them. This closure has been initiated due to recommendations issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concerning white nose syndrome (WNS) in bats. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that more than 400,000 bats have died from WNS, including 25,000 federally endangered Indiana bats, and many more bats are at immediate risk.
As of March 18, 2009, at least 60 hibernacula in nine states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia) are known to be affected by WNS.
Wildlife managers are concerned about the outbreak because bats congregate by the thousands in caves and mines to hibernate during winter months. Most bats affected to date are little brown bats, but the fungus has also been found on endangered Indiana bats, raising concerns about the impacts on a species already at risk. Other affected bat species include the eastern pipistrelle and northern long-eared bat. For additional information about white nose syndrome in bats, please visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service site.
Do you want to see bats on your trip to the Smokies?
Don’t worry, even though the caves are closed to visitors, you can still see bats on your trip to the Smokies. Many of the Park’s bats actually roost in trees during the day. So, the ultimate “Free Thing to Do” in the Smokies–going to the National Park–is still an option for this activity.
Another option is the Knoxville Zoo. The mission of Knoxville Zoological Gardens is to celebrate the wonders of the natural world. Through education, conservation, exhibition, research and recreation, the zoo will tell the stories of the animals, the plants and the people who make up the communities of the earth. The zoo will develop positive attitudes and actions about nature and about conservation as a local and global issue. Located at 3500 Knoxville Zoo Drive, Knoxville, TN 37914, the Knoxville Zoo is just under one hour’s drive from Gatlinburg Cabins.
Special thanks to the Smokies Guide, the official newspaper of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and www.nps.gov/grsm for providing the bat information.
Are you hoping to have a wildlife encounter during your vacations? These cabins have a history of wildlife encounters–mostly bears:
Bear’s Den (bears stole a picnic lunch)
Chipmunk Haven (bears –see picture left)
At the Top (bears in the trees)
Hillbilly Hilton (raccoons)
Water’s Edge (wild hogs)
Is there a topic you would like to see covered at A Day In The Smokies? Email us!
This blog is sponsored by ERA In The Smokies Realty and Rentals located at 207 Parkway in Gatlinburg. For more info. on a Gatlinburg Cabin for your Smoky Mountain Vacation or all the reasons to move to the Smokies, call 1-800-309-0277. ERA In The Smokies is a leader in chalet and Log Cabin Rentals and Real Estate Sales in the Gatlinburg area.