To many, even the thought of a bat elicits screams. The sight of a “flittermouse” zigzagging through the night sky causes others to quickly cover their heads in the false assumption that the nighttime creature may take residence in their hair. The wild antics of people frantically swinging brooms at bats have been documented and even featured on You Tube and television shows. But for staff at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and bat and nature aficionados, these winged flying mammals cause goosebumps of excitement and exclamations of “sweet and beautiful.”
Come Sept. 19, at 7 p.m. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (NHP) rangers will offer the park’s second “Batty about Bats.” Bat devotees or those simply interested in learning more about these wondrous winged mammals should meet at the Bartlett Park picnic area where videos and posters will provide a great overall tutelage to bats and modern technology used by park staff to better understand these flying mammals which ultimately leads to better protection of bats and their habitats. Three stations will help all grasp the roles bats play in the ecosystem and their importance to humans.
At station one, an anabat detector will allow visitors to “hear” the bats’ chirps which normally are at such a high frequency that they can’t be detected by humans. Bat chirps can even distinguish bat species. Station two will be equipped with night vision goggles through which visitors will be able to peer into the darkness and make their own discoveries. Station three, the grand finale, is where a video camera with TV hookup and infrared will help visitors more easily see bats which will be harmlessly caught in a mist net.
Jenny Beeler, the park’s resource management specialist, is jubilant about the mist netting explaining that “Steve Thomas, monitoring program leader for the National Park Service’s Cumberland Piedmont Network based at Mammoth Cave National Park, will be at the helm of this station. Steve is a wealth of information and an expert in bats. Steve will share with visitors easy clues in identifying bat species and will also ‘work up the bat’ which simply means he’ll be weighing it and measuring its forearm.”
Beeler ecstatically proclaims “Bats are near and dear to park staff’s hearts as they should be to all. They are so important in our daily lives! There are at least 1200 species of bats throughout the world with nine species living here at Cumberland Gap.
In just one night, insect eating bats can eat half their weight in insects. For us, that means paying less at grocery stores due to reduced crop damage. It also means farmers having to use fewer pesticides. It means happier picnics and ball games in not having as many insects buzzing about. And as there are many species which feed on plants, it means plants being pollinated as bats move from plant to plant.”
But with a somber note, Beeler also explains that many bat populations are now being ravaged due to white nose syndrome which has killed almost 6 million cave-dwelling bats in the eastern third of North America as it has spread south and west. “White nose syndrome was confirmed in bats at Cumberland Gap in early 2013. We’re doing a tremendous amount of research here at Cumberland Gap to help protect our bats. By hosting programs such as these, we hope to make the public more aware of this serious threat to bats here at the park and throughout the world.”
As this program is being held at the Bartlett Park picnic area, it will be accessible to folks with a limited walking range and those who need assistance via a cane, walker or wheelchair. The picnic area is but ½ mile from the park’s visitor center. Visitors should access the Pinnacle Road; shortly on the right after passing the visitor center, visitors will see signs for the Bartlett Park picnic area and park headquarters. Visitors should bring flashlights and insect repellent and wear long pants and a long sleeved shirt during the hour and a half long program.
In case of rain, the 7 p.m. program will be moved to the national park visitor center.
For information on this free program and other park programs, call 606-248-2817 ext. 1075 or visit www.nps.gov/cuga.
This program is also being co-hosted by the Friends of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Find the Friends on Facebook at www.facebook.com/friendsofcumberlandgap.