Sunday, February 23, 2014

Big Deal for Big-eared Bats

     The extra special feature of the Red Hills is the presence of over half of all the state's caves.  And the special feature of some of the caves is they harbor a number of bat species.  Of these half dozen or so species, the coolest is the Townsend's Big-eared Bat with the scientific name, Corynorhinus townsendii.  This edition of the outback highlights one particularly special cave, Havard Cave, the above special bat species, and the very dedicated researchers working to help preserve all the above.  Following the long-term Red Hills bat census efforts by Stan Roth, retired high school teacher from Lawrence, Dr. Bill Jensen and student Mitch Rens of Emporia State University are continuing his biennial winter bat census.  They practice extensive precautions to dis-infect all clothing, instruments and other supplies used in this research project.  This is necessary because of the potential for the presence of the fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans and an absolute need to prevent any possible spread under even the slightest chance of its presence.  As its name implies, the fungus can be deadly to some bat species.  White-nosed Syndrome (WNS) is the disease caused by the fungus and has caused as high as 95% mortality in some species in some caves in the eastern U.S.   Spores of the fungus have been discovered in at least one cave in Kansas but, fortunately, no WNS has been identified to date.
        Two Townsend's Big-eared Bats hang out in a state of torpor, hibernating in Havard Cave.  One has ears extended and the other ears folded.

A group of Big-eared Bats congregate to conserve energy through the winter.  For some unknown reason, one of them is an outcast.

 Bill and Mitch peel off their protective gear and sanitize.  It's a cumbersome but necessary precaution.

            Mitch swabs the wing of a Tri-colored Bat for testing for the fungus that causes White-nose Syndrome.

                The "Grand Canyon" of Havard Cave is one of the most impressive features of 
any Kansas cave.

The "Big Room" of Havard Cave with the author.

   Lee Ann shows the beauty of the canyon and
 ceiling sculpture of Havard Cave.

               Dr. Jensen exits the narrow entrance after an exhausting day of spelunking and biology.
[All Red Hills caves, including Havard Cave, are on private property.  Because of the fragile nature of these caves and their inhabitants, locations should never be disclosed.  Their conservation depends greatly on honoring this condition.]

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