Media & Education
BATS Magazine

Volume 37, Issue 2, 2018

Tri-colored Bat

As one of the longest hibernators, the adorable ‘Pip’ values beauty rest


If bats were social media stars, the tri-colored bat would be a beauty influencer. This bat’s style game is on point, boasting individual strands of hair that exhibit a beautiful tryptic of colors. And like all good social media influencers, this bat has a catchy nickname—Pip. “I know at least three bat biologists who named their pets after the tri-colored bat. There are definitely a few cats and dogs out there named Pip,” says Winifred Frick, BCI’s Chief Scientist. “This species definitely holds a place in people’s hearts.”

A healthy tri-colored bat (Perimyotis subflavus) roosts in
Ellison's Cave, Georgia.
Courtesy of Pete Pattavina/ USFWS

This adorable nickname is a reference to the bat’s original designation as the eastern pipistrelle. Though it is now classified in the genus Perimyotis (the sole member), the nickname has stuck. After all, it’s a fun nickname for such a small bat species.

In fact, the tri-colored bat is one of the smallest species of bat found in North America. Coming in at a minute 4–6 grams, it is roughly the same weight as a quarter. And this bat loves to hibernate. The tri-colored bat is one of the first species to enter hibernation each fall and among the last to emerge in spring. Hibernation sites are found deep within caves or mines in areas of relatively warm, stable temperatures. Once these bats find a winter hibernation site they like, they will often return to the same exact location year after year.

Tri-colored bat (Perimyotis subflavus) in Reeves Cave, Indiana.
The droplets are condensation, not fungus.
Courtesy of R. Andrew King/ USFWS

“Tri-colored bats stand out when you do your hibernacula surveys. You can have hundreds in a site, but they tend to hang out by themselves, not in a big cluster. They will tuck themselves into little cracks and crevices,” says Frick. “When they hibernate, they will get some water condensation on them, and it looks like they’re bejeweled.” Tri-colored bats are among the first to emerge at dusk, darting around the treetops in search of moths, beetles, mosquitoes, midges, bugs, ants and other insects.

The bat’s penchant for grain moths and beetles suggests that it holds important agricultural value. Tri-colored bats typically live around 4 to 8 years, with one bat found in the wild at the ripe old age of 14. These bats will commonly give birth to twins after a gestation period of roughly 60 days. Pups will usually be flying within a month after birth.

This species was once one of the most common bats found throughout the east coast of Mexico into northern Central America. However, tri-colored bats face myriad threats from habitat loss, impacts from wind turbines and White-nose Syndrome. Because of this, the species is currently being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Tri-colored bats join little brown bats and northern long-eared bats as one of the species most heavily impacted by White-nose Syndrome. “We’re worried about the tri-colored bat, as we’ve seen populations decline rapidly in most places where tri-colored bats hibernate. They are a species we definitely need to learn more about,” Frick adds.

BCI is partnering with bat physiology experts Dr. Liam McGuire and Dr. Justin Boyles to conduct experimental research on the microclimate preferences of tri-colored bats exposed to the fungus that causes White-nose Syndrome. This research will hopefully inform future ways to mitigate the devastating effects of the disease on tri-colored and other bat species.

 

 

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