Bats Get Help From A Manmade Cave
September 15, 2012

Manmade Bat Cave Designed To Prevent White-Nose Syndrome

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

An artificial cave, designed to help protect bats from a fungal ailment that to date has killed more than six million of the creatures throughout North America, has been constructed by conservationists in the woods of Tennessee, according to various media outlets published Friday.

The project, which Randall Dickerson of the Associated Press (AP) reports cost an estimated $300,000 and was built by The Nature Conservancy, is believed to be the first manmade hibernating facility ever built for bats in the wild. The facility can be cleaned each year, which members of the organization hope will be able to keep the flying rodents from contracting white-nose syndrome from Geomyces destructans spores.

The cave, which does not yet have a name, is located near the Tennessee town of Clarksville, and is 78 feet long and 16 feet wide -- "about the size of a single-wide mobile home," according to the AP. The artificial cave network can hold a minimum of 160,000 of the estimated 265,000 that reside in the nearby Bellamy Cave network, where the syndrome was first discovered back in March, added Rebecca Boyle of Popular Science.

"Curled fan belts and netting attached to the ceiling will provide a comfortable hibernating spot for gray bats and Indiana bats, and crevices in the wall will welcome Eastern small-footed bats. A rainwater pipe will bring in moisture to maintain the cave´s humidity levels and provide drinking water, and an air chimney will provide ventilation," Boyle said. "It will also have surveillance cameras so humans can keep an eye on the bats without disturbing them."

"Two 1.5-ton air conditioning units will run for the next few weeks to drop the cave´s temperature to the required range, between 41 and 50°F, and Holliday is still working on getting the humidity levels right," she added. "It´s built from huge concrete culvert pieces, the same structures that provide waterways under roads and highways. The“¦ designers added extra texture on the ceiling to give bats a foothold. The 17- to 20-ton sections fit together like Tinker Toys -- a modular design that kept the price low and could be easily replicated elsewhere, if it works."

According to Suzanne Goldenberg of the Guardian, as many as 6.7 million bats throughout North America have died as a result of white-nose syndrome, a condition named for the distinctive fungal growth around the wings and muzzles of hibernating bats that was first discovered in a New York cave six years ago.

Bats in 19 US states and four Canadian provinces have been affected, and 90% of the population of some northeastern caves has died out as a result of the fungal ailment, she added.

Nature Conservancy officials told Dickerson that the cave could hold up to 250,000 bats.

The fungus is "easily controllable in a controlled environment," Cory Holliday, the organization's cave expert, told Goldenberg. "There are lots of things that kill this fungus. But nothing that kills the fungus could be used in a natural cave environment because it would kill everything else and be detrimental to the eco-system."

Holliday added that the cave was a "working prototype" and that, if successful, other organizations in other areas could be able to use their design to build similar artificial bat sanctuaries.