March 2009, Volume 7, Issue 3

Bats in the Wells


 Old hand-dug water wells often provide a refuge for Rafinesque’s big-eared bats and southeastern myotis when winter temperatures fall in southwestern Arkansas. As natural habitat disappears, these bats have come to depend increasingly on abandoned buildings in summer and on those crumbling old wells during winter cold spells. But many of the the wells have casings that are very low to the ground, raising the risk of unwary humans falling into them. Others are used as local garbage dumps.
 
To keep these old wells available for bats, while also protecting people, Blake Sasse of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, David Saugey of the U.S. Forest Service and Dan England, retired from Southern Arkansas University, decided to install steel covers over the well openings with gaps for the bats to enter and exit. The researchers, who have been studying bats in the area for many years, asked Mylea Bayless, Coordinator of BCI’s Southeast Rare Bats initiative for help. BCI, with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, supported a pilot program to cap three wells.
 
Sasse and Saugey installed the caps on one well on property owned by the Oak Grove Methodist Church in Lafayette County and two on Deltic Timber Company property in Nevada County. Each well had been used as a winter roost by about 10 to 30 bats. These rare species typically form rather small colonies.
 
This past winter, Sasse took advantage of a blast of cold weather to check the three wells. “We can definitely say that the bats were not offended by the covers, as there were [Rafinesque’s big-eared] bats in all of them and at higher numbers than seen in the previous two winter visits,” he concluded.
 
The pilot project seems to prove the utility of the metal covers, at least as far as the bats are concerned. BCI, in collaboration with colleagues in Arkansas, plan to protect more roost sites this winter. You can help protect these winter roosts of last resort for two rare species by donating to BCI’s Rare Bats Initiative at www.batcon.org/donate

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