It’s hard to be neutral about the looks of this week’s featured animals, Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bat (pictured on the left) and Townsend’s Big-eared Bat (pictured below) . They are either jolie laide or pretty ugly. The illustrations of both bats, which appear in John H. Rappole’s Wildlife of the Mid-Atlantic, seem to capture a special kind of good-natured cheekiness underneath the leathery wings and enormous echolocating ears. Or not. If the freaky appeal of these flying mammals is lost on you, it’s probably for the best as far as their future survival is concerned. The best-intentioned visit from a curious person can be deadly to a bat.
In human-bat encounters, the old saying "they’re just as scared of you as you are of them" is a dangerous understatement. Once a human invades a Rafinesque’s or Townsend’s bat roost, the
nocturnal insect eaters are likely to abandon that home never to
return–in some cases leaving their newborn offspring behind.
Hibernating big-eared bats are especially vulnerable to human intrusion
because the energy a bat expends when reacting to an unexpected visitor
can deplete its winter fat stores and lead to starvation. Habitat
disturbance and destruction have reduced big-eared bat populations to
the point where the Rafinesque is rarely seen and the Townsend species
is considered endangered. Even the bats who fled their limestone caves
for abandoned mines are at risk as more mine owners chose to seal the
entrances to these spaces and entomb the bat colonies within.
Fortunately for West Virginia’s Townsend’s big-eared bats, a
subspecies known as Virginia big-eared bats, conservation and education
efforts have allowed populations to rebound. Fencing untrained humans
out of bat caves, encouraging mine owners to survey their abandoned
mines for bat populations before sealing the mines off, and a deeper
understanding of bat behavior have contributed to the rebound. Details
on West Virginia’s bats can be found at West Virginia Wildlife Magazine website.
For general information on bat protection (and more cool bat images) visit Bat Conservation International.