The Indiana bat is a medium-sized, gray, black, or chestnut bat listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It lives primarily in eastern and midwestern states and in parts of the southern United States. The Indiana bat was listed as "endangered throughout its range" in the Federal Register on March 11, 1967. Reasons for the bat's decline include disturbance of colonies by human beings, pesticide use and loss of summer habitat resulting from the clearing of forest shelter. Populations in New York and New England are also threatened by the spread of white-nose syndrome
. The condition, named for a distinctive ring of fungal growth around the muzzles, and on the wings of many affected animals, was first identified in a cave in Schoharie County, N.Y., in February 2006, and started showing up in the news after January 2007. It spread to other New York caves and into Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut
in 2008. In early 2009 it was confirmed in New Hampshire,
New Jersey, Pennsylvania
and West Virginia. The condition has been found in over 25 caves and mines in the northeastern U.S. For more specifics on what was done to prevent this outbreak by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Northern region, visit the website
Within Pennsylvania, the Indiana bat is poorly represented, having occurred historically at only eight sites, all of which were natural caves. Recent surveys have found the Indiana bat at two caves, five limestone mines and two coal mines. Although the trend for finding new locations has improved, this may be because more complete surveys have been done and not that the Indiana bat population is increasing. At sites that have been monitored over a number of years, populations remain low, but stable. The major cause of declines in Indiana bat populations remains disturbance to winter hibernating populations and, in several cases, intentional vandalism to the hibernating site and the bats.
The length of the Indiana bat's head and body ranges from 1.2 to two inches, and the animal weighs about 1/4 of an ounce. These bats are very difficult to distinguish from other species, especially the more common little brown bat, unless examined closely. The size of the feet, the length of the toe hairs and the presence of an extra finger on the inner side of the ankle are characteristics used to differentiate the Indiana bat from other bats. Indiana bats can live an average of five to nine years, but some can live much longer under good conditions. It can have fur from black to chestnut with a light gray to cinnamon belly. Unlike other common bats with brown hair and black lip, the Indiana bat has brown hair and pink lips, which is helpful for identification.
Indiana bats give birth to only one pup, around midsummer. These young bats are capable of flight in only one month of life. They spend the rest of the summer and fall accumulating fat reserves for hibernation. In the fall, bats congregate in caves and begin a swarming period. During this time, the bats will fly in and out of their cave throughout the night. Mating occurs during swarming period, but females store sperm during hibernation and do not become pregnant until spring. In spring, bats emerge from hibernation and migrate to their summer homes. Females form maternity colonies of up to 100 individuals during the summer.
The protection from disturbance of hibernation sites is the most important factor in the conservation of this species. Historical and present sites should be gated during winter months to keep people from coming into contact with hibernating populations of Indiana bats. Many historical sites remain unused by Indiana bats and need to be further protected before the declines of this bat's numbers can be halted. Only after these winter sites are protected can the issue of protecting the bats summer maternity habitat be addressed.