The night life around Black Rock Mountain State Park will keep researchers from across the state busy Sept. 4-7.
It is all part of the Georgia Bat Working Group’s first Bat Blitz.
The event based at the park in northeast Georgia’s Rabun County is focused on better understanding the area’s bat communities. But there is an even bigger picture. Organizer Trina Morris said the timing syncs with other blitzes in the eastern U.S. as part of a Southeastern Bat Diversity Network (www.sbdn.org) effort to gather data after the summer survey season ends and before bats start migrating.
This focus reflects the continued spread of white-nose syndrome – a fungal disease that has killed millions of bats in the U.S. and has been found in Georgia – and a federal decision expected next year that could list northern long-eared bats as endangered.
“This bat blitz will provide a great opportunity for volunteers to sample many sites in a short amount of time,” said Ms. Morris, who leads bat research for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section. “The information we collect is very valuable to increase our overall knowledge of bats in northeast Georgia.”
The public can learn about bat conservation and see how researchers survey bats during a talk that Morris will lead. The presentation starts at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5, at the park’s amphitheater ($5 parking fee).
For the blitz, scientists, students and volunteers will fan out across state and federal lands within an hour’s drive of Black Rock Mountain.
The Georgia Bat Working Group (www.gabats.org) is a partnership aimed at ensuring the long-term health of Georgia’s bat populations. The group has representatives from federal, state and private agencies, and includes people from across the state. The hope is the blitz becomes an annual event.
Georgia is home to 16 bat species. All seek a sheltered roost during the day and emerge at night to eat flying insects such as moths, mosquitoes and beetles. Some species, such as the Southeastern myotis and gray bats, depend on caves for roosting. Others, such as big brown bats and evening bats, are more adaptable and use hollow trees and buildings. Red bats and Seminole bats conceal themselves in foliage.
Small insectivorous bats like those found in Georgia can eat more than 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in an hour. Other species around the world serve important roles as pollinators of crops.
But bats face increasing threats, varying from habitat loss to white-nose syndrome, documented in Georgia in 2013 and this year in Rabun County. White-nose is cited as a factor in northern long-eared bat population declines estimated at to 99 percent in the Northeast. The species also lives in Georgia.
Bat-to-bat transmission – often through migrating bats – is considered a primary way in which the fungus linked to white-nose is spread. Some bats that spend summers at roost sites in Georgia move to cave hibernacula in other states for the winter.