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February 18, 2012

Bats

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This morning I woke up at 5:30 to layer up for a day of caving/mine exploring in Lewisberg, Ohio counting bats. SPEA provided to the transportation for a newly hired junior faculty member, a professor, and me to drive to there. It was a nice 2 or 3 hour drive that I remember absolutely none of because I was asleep. When we headed to the mine, the first people who had gotten there to make sure it wasn’t too flooded or too unsafe found out that most of the bats were infected with White Nose disease, which kills about 90% of the bats infected and is spreading across the country. We suited up in haz-mat suits so that we wouldn’t be contaminated with the fungus (because humans can spread it to other bats) and chest waders (they are like rubber boots that go all the way above your chest so you can be chest deep in water without getting wet). We headed into the cave with our headlamps, infrared thermometers, maps, and clipboards to take counts of each of our sections of the mine. It was a limestone mine, so we didn’t have to worry about off-gasing, but we still had to worry about getting lost (the map was wrong in a lot of places and there were a lot of sections where the roof had fallen down and you couldn’t get through)! Since big blocks of limestone had been taken out the entire place was like a giant grid, so everything looked exactly the same. Most of the bats my group saw were nicknamed Pips (I can’t remember their species real name), and they were about the length of my thumb (and I have small hands!), and were about 3/4 of the size of a mouse.  They were very cute! We spent most of the day wading through knee to chest deep water and I spent the first couple hours trying not to freak out because of the total darkness (aside from our headlamps) and the feeling of being so deep underground and in water. I kept thinking we were going to find a dead body. It honestly looked like it could be the setting for a horror movie.  We worked until about 6 at night and then headed home! It was a real cool experience, I got to see all 5 types of bats that live in Indiana, watch them fly, and hear them chatter to each other. This will probably be the last year that IU gets to help out with this survey because most of the bats will be dead by next year because of White Nose, so that was very sad.

Here’s a picture of me, all decked out after we were done.

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