My most cherished childhood memories almost all revolve around my experiences outdoors during summer vacations. The most mystical creatures, to me, were always the bats fluttering overhead. When I discovered that one species of bat had been named for my home state, I was instantly hooked and started doing some research. Here is a condensed summary of what I have learned about the Indiana bat.
The Indiana bat was first discovered in Wyandotte Cave in southern Indiana, in 1904; officially, the species was introduced to science in 1928. This small bat's scientific name is Myotis sodalis. Myotis, meaning "mouse ear," describes the small, mouse-like ears of the Indiana bat, and Sodalis, meaning "companion," is descriptive of the large colonies of bats that congregate for hibernation every year.
The Indiana bat is now endangered for three main reasons: hibernation disturbance, habitat fragmentation and disease. Because of the recent commercialization of southern Indiana caves, these bats are extremely susceptible to disturbances while they are hibernating. Many caves now have some sort of gate to prevent vandalism or unsafe practices. If these gates are not properly constructed, they can prevent bats from reentering caves, change the air flow, or even alter the temperature of a cave. Deforestation has reduced the foraging and summer roosting areas for the Indiana bat. Because of the changing conditions of Indiana caves and the loss of habitat, the Indiana bat is now on the endangered species list.
Indiana began a recovery plan for the Indiana bat in 1983, the very year that I was born. This recovery plan called for the conservation and management of hibernacula -- the caves or other underground areas where bats hibernate. In 2007, the plan was amended to increase the conservation and management of summer habitat where the species reproduces and raises its young, as well as more public education and outreach.
While these conservation efforts are slowly helping the Indiana bat populations, a new threat to our insect-eating bats has arisen: white-nose syndrome
. The first reported case of white-nose syndrome was discovered by a caver in Albany, N.Y., who noticed several dead bats and a number of hibernating bats with a strange white substance on their muzzles. The next winter, a number of bats with white noses were found dead, or behaving erratically, which led to the documentation of white nose syndrome in January 2007. While a recently-identified fungus might be the culprit, it is still unknown why bats are developing a susceptibility to it now, and there is thus far no way to treat this syndrome. All along the coast, from Virginia to Vermont, record numbers of bats have been found dead or dying from white-nose syndrome; in some areas, more than 90 percent of bats are infected and dying from this disease.
We can protect the habitat of the Indiana bat, but so far we have no way to combat this terrible plague that is infecting so many of our beloved bug-eaters. If the Indiana bat populations are to survive, more research on white-nose syndrome and possible treatments is desperately needed.