TWRA goes batty over Wilson County

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

TWRA workers construct an artificial nesting tree for bats in Wilson County.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has selected Wilson County as the perfect location for building habitat for bats.

The project, which recently got underway with construction of nine “artificial bat nesting trees” is part of an effort by the TWRA to assist the fascinating little airborne animals.

“For whatever reason, Wilson County appears to be a pretty significant roosting area for the Indiana bat,” says TWRA Region II Biodiversity Coordinator Josh Campbell. “The goal is to provide as much sustainable habitat as possible for female bats to bear and raise their young.”

Tennessee, because of its vast state-wide system of limestone caves, has one of the largest bat populations in the U.S. But in recent years that population has declined due to the spread of White Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease that impacts bats.

Surveys conducted by wildlife biologists in recent years have found that as much as 80 percent of bat populations have been lost in some areas where the disease is prevalent.

For past several springs researchers have tracked Indiana bats migrating from their winter hibernation areas in caves on the Cumberland Plateau to different states, as well as to farms in Wilson County.

The preferred nesting habitat for the Indiana bat consists of dead trees with large, loose sections of bark.

Maternity colonies of up to 70 bats have been documented in the spaces created by the loose bark on old, dead trees. The new-born bats are reared there until able to fend for themselves.

However, such dead trees and snags are prone to falling down or losing the protective loose bark, forcing the already-stressed bats to expend energy searching for a new home. That stress is compounded in cold weather.

“Bats go into hibernation with a limited amount of fat stored to sustain them through the winter,” says Campbell.

The artificial nesting trees built and mounted by the TWRA may solve the problem.

Wooden telephone poles are outfitted with a specially-designed wrap that mimics loose tree bark.

The poles are more sturdy and endurable than authentic dead trees and natural bark. That should allow the bats to get through the nesting period without disruption.

This is the first time such artificial nesting sites have been tried. TWRA biologists will monitor them, and in the spring will check on the bats to gauge the success of the venture.

If the bats find it to their liking, they and future generations of bats are expected to return to the Wilson County nesting sites year after year.

Bats have tremendous ecological value, routinely eating their weight in mosquitos and other flying insects.

Despite a sometimes scary reputation, bats are harmless. However, they have sharp claws and teeth, and may bite if captured. Like all wild mammals, they are susceptible to the rabies virus and should not be handled.

Larry Woody is The Democrat’s outdoors writer. Email him at larrywoody@gmail.com.

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