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Rare Indiana Bats Find Home in New Jersey
by Dennis Hamlin and Karen Miranda
Photo Credit: Andrew King / USFWS
When a rare animal expands its range, it's great cause for excitement and celebration.
For biologists working to recover the federally endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalist), the excitement hit in 1993, when a new colony of bats was confirmed in the Garden State. The Indiana bat requires specific habitat conditions to survive, and 19 hibernating bats had found those conditions in an old abandoned mine near the northern New Jersey town of Hibernia.
Just over 10 years later in 2004, researchers conducting surveys at two other nearby abandoned mines found winter roosts for at least 500 more Indiana bats. The tiny bats, weighing about the same as three pennies, hibernate in dense clusters in caves and mines where temperatures remain 38 to 43 degrees Fahrenheit (3 to 6 degrees Celsius) and relative humidity is 66 to 95 percent.
The next piece of the puzzle was to determine whether these bats were year-round New Jersey residents. When winter wears off, the Indiana bats leave these winter roosts to establish summer colonies under loose, peeling tree bark in sunny forested areas. On summer nights, Indiana bats forage in flight for moths and other soft-bodied insects along forest edges and over streams and wetlands. Once a mother bat gives birth to a single pup, usually in June, she returns to the roost several times each night to nurse. After just one month, the newborn bats are ready to fly and feed on their own.
In 2005, using radio tagging and mist netting, managers of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (Service) Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge captured juvenile and mother Indiana bats just 15 miles (24 kilometers) south of Hibernia and confirmed their year-round presence. Later, studies identified at least three summer colonies of the species within the refuge.
The Service provides several layers of protection for Indiana bats and the unique habitats they depend on for survival. Service biologists provide advice and technical assistance to parties conducting activities within Indiana bat habitat, such as timing the removal of trees to avoid the potential for killing or injuring bats, minimizing tree removal around known roosts, and minimizing disturbance to bats while they are hibernating.
The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge alone protects nearly 12 square miles (3,075 hectares) of wetlands, several streams, and large tracts of hardwood forests, offering ideal summer habitat for Indiana bats. Most importantly, the Service has partnered with conservation groups, academia, individuals, and other interested parties, all dedicated in the effort to preserve and enhance the Indiana bat's presence in New Jersey.
While significant progress has been made in preserving the species in New Jersey, there are some conservation challenges that biologists must address. One of the most recent and significant potential threats to the species' recovery is a fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS), which affects hibernating bats. WNS has decimated many populations of other bat species in New Jersey, including the closely related little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus). Unfortunately, WNS has also significantly impacted Indiana bats throughout the northeastern U.S. In March 2012, the Service announced eight grants totaling approximately $1.6 million to continue the investigation of white-nose syndrome in bats, and to identify ways to manage the devastating disease.
Editor's note: Learn more about WNS in bats.
Dennis Hamlin, a fish and wildlife biologist in the Service's New Jersey Field Office, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 609-383-3938, ext. 14. Karen Miranda, a public affairs specialist in Boise, Idaho, may be reached at email@example.com or 208-387-5891.
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