Mammoth Cave Intern Hangs Out With Bats

Amber Flowers is a bat monitoring intern at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. With Halloween on the horizon, we just had to ask what it’s like to hang around with bats. (See what we did there?)

SCA: So what does a bat monitor actually do?

Amber: My job is to hike to cave entrances and structures across the park, in order to observe and evaluate them for bat activity. With the rapid decline of bat populations due to various environmental factors such as White Nose Syndrome, and habitat change and disturbance, it’s important to verify the number of bats entering and exiting a cave.

SCA: How do you conduct your count?

Amber: I collect data using specialized infrared lights, night vision goggles, and cameras and a FLIR Infrared Camera. The total number of bats entering and exiting is recorded on a specially designed data sheet at five minute intervals from 7:45 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., on two separate nights at each predetermined location. These data are then analyzed and used over time to see if populations are increasing or decreasing.

SCA: What if the evidence continues to point to decreasing numbers?

Amber: The data enables park staff to work with various resources and agencies to find solutions to hopefully maintain these colonies. Bat counts can also be used to determine if bats are using an abandoned structure or dead tree slated for demolition, as we want to avoid possibly injuring or killing existing bats, if any. Considering that some monitored species are federally endangered, such as the Gray bat (M. grisescens) or Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), this work is extremely important.

SCA: What is the coolest thing you’ve learned so far about bats?

Amber: Bats are amazing, so it’s difficult to settle on what would be the coolest thing I’ve learned. However, some of the things that I find interesting are:

  • Some species such as the Townsend’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) will lay back its unique and large ears when stressed such as when being photographed
  • Bats can be picky and will abandon their cave if the temperature changes even by a few degrees, the same if an entrance is altered or the cave frequently disturbed
  • Mating occurs late summer/early autumn and the females store the result of the occurrence until the spring, when the time is right to enable her to become a mother

SCA: Sorry, obligatory question: what are you doing for Halloween?

Amber: Mammoth Cave National Park doesn’t typically host a Halloween related activity, however beautiful fall colors make the trails a great option to burn off all that Trick-or-Treat candy the day after! For something a little more spooky, enjoy a cave tour to cool off after your hike.