Batty About Bats
Written by: Rachel Teeter
I started my most recent position at Cumberland Gap as the official “Batty About Bats” Interpretation Intern in March. My position is funded specifically through grants allotted to increase awareness about the importance of bats to people and the impact of White Nose Syndrome.
This summer, the average day for me has included at least one cave tour of Gap Cave. While I don’t always give the tour myself, it is one of my favorite parts of my job! I like teaching people something new and making them laugh. When I’m not giving cave tours, I can usually be found at the visitor center either doing odd jobs, preparing future programs, or presenting pop-up programs about bats to visitors. I also visit local schools and libraries, because thinking up programs and getting kids interested in bats is so much fun!
Much of bat interpretation is trying to get people interested in bats. Many people think bats are pests that are creepy looking and can get into your house to make a mess, but there is so much more to them. Being able to change the perception of bats from a bunch of freaky critters to an important part of our ecosystem is crucial to preventing them from disappearing. Bats eat thousands of insects every night, including mosquitoes and crop pests like corn earworms and cucumber beetles. They provide farmers with BILLIONS of dollars of pest control services every year. But many of the bats that live in Gap Cave are harmed by White Nose Syndrome, a disease that wakes them up during winter hibernation when they can’t find enough insects to eat. It has a high mortality rate, and recently one of our bat species, the tricolored bat, was recommended for the endangered species list because so many have disappeared due to the disease. While we are a long way from figuring out a cure to White Nose Syndrome, the best way to help bats is to spread the word! Informing people about bats, explaining why we close caves during the winter, and asking people to wash their shoes at the end of cave tours is all part of making sure we don’t spread this disease to other vulnerable caves.
I first became interested in bats when I was attending the nearby Lincoln Memorial University for my bachelor’s degree in conservation biology. I was able to perform a biodiversity survey using a bat recorder, which picks up high-frequency bat calls and tells us what species of bats we are listening to. I love being able to take what I learned at LMU and apply it to my position here, and there are so many opportunities to do so!