Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency surveys managers recently explored a cave in East Tennessee that contains a large number of hibernating Gray Bats, a state and federally endangered species.
Wildlife Surveys Managers Chris Ogle and Daniel Istvanko descended into a cave known as Rattlin’ Pit in Cocke County, which is owned by Newport Utilities. Joining them was a representative of the Southeastern Cave Conservancy.
Inside the cave, the surveyors located an estimated 85,955 hibernating Gray bats, along with four Tri-colored bats, and two Big Brown bats. Because the cave contained such a large number of Gray bats, it is now considered a Tier 1 priority Gray bat hibernaculum and is the fourth largest Gray bat hibernaculum in Tennessee.
According to Ogle, “The Gray bat population in Tennessee is now estimated at 1.2 million, which is equal to the rough population estimate for their entire range when they were first listed as an endangered species.”
Gray bats are both state and federally endangered and were set to be de-listed until White Nosed Syndrome was found. Fortunately, Gray bats are not greatly impacted by WNS.
Ogle reports that because the bats were waking up so quickly, they did not get to explore the cave thoroughly and will probably resurvey this cave in the winter every two years and do an emergence count in the summer. Additionally, the surveyors report band recoveries from Pearson Cave in Hawkins County, as well as some from Virginia.
Bats provide invaluable services to humans and natural ecosystems through pollination and pest control. Tennessee is home to 16 bat species and all feed almost exclusively on insects. In fact, bats are the only major predators of night-flying insects and a single bat may eat more than 50% of its own body weight in insects each night. This adds up to about 3,000 or more insects daily.