Missouri Bat Census surveys caves at Cloud 9 Ranch
The Missouri Bat Census recently surveyed 10 caves at Cloud 9 Ranch in Ozark County, and many are surprised by what the survey found.
The group, self-described as “bat and eco-conservation-minded cavers, educators, biologists, students and others who conduct and maintain a data base inventory of bats and species diversity in Missouri’s privately owned caves,” shared photos and stories from its recent Cloud 9 Ranch explorations on the group’s Facebook page.
Tough conditions, sweet payoff
In addition to cold temperatures, the cavers braved tight crawls and flooded passages to take the inventory. The group is especially interested in tracking white-nose syndrome (WNS), a rapidly spreading bat disease caused by the Pseudogymnoascus destructans fungus.
According to the Missouri Bat Census page on Facebook, WNS has been killing millions of hibernating bats in 33 US states and five Canadian provinces since 2007. It was first confirmed in Missouri in the winter of 2011-2012.
“This year [at Cloud 9 Ranch] we found 76 tricolor bats, 10 more tricolor with WNS, four big brown bats, one endangered gray bat and one silver-haired bat. Silver-haired are a rare find in cave hibernation,” said Missouri Bat Census founder Kirsten Alvey-Mudd.
Last year the group found only 53 healthy tricolor bats, plus 25 bats with white-nose symptoms at Cloud 9. When they visited the caves in 2017, only about 30 of the 790 bats they found showed symptoms of white nose symptom.
“The population of tricolors at Cloud 9 has likely reached its ‘bottom out’ level since WNS arrived in 2016. Bat populations remaining are likely genetically tolerant and will begin to rebuild the populations,” said Alvey-Mudd.
In addition to the bats, they found cave salamanders, dark-sided salamanders, grotto salamanders, pickerel frogs and several species of spiders and insects.
Last but not least
The final Cloud 9 Ranch cave on the group’s list presented challenging conditions, but those who braved it earned a sweet reward.
Recent rains had flooded parts of the cave, leaving only 6 to 8 inches or less of air space. The tight, muddy passages required belly-crawling, crawling on hands and knees – and even swimming.
The cavers went through the water one at a time in order to prevent waves and splashing from forcing water into the next person’s face.
“This cave, though…,” said Alvey-Mudd, “it’s filled with amphibians, and one very special bat who hibernates every year in almost the same spot 2,000 feet back in the very last room at the end of the cave. It’s always exciting to find it and receive our ‘reward’ for making the journey.”
She thinks the hibernating bat is likely an example of those with a genetically proven tolerance to WNS.
Contact the Missouri Bat Census
The Missouri Bat Census provides bat rescues, biological inventories, educational programs, cave and karst restoration and clean-ups, and cave management and mapping services. The group can also coordinate outside resources to conduct paleological and archaeological surveys and digs, geology and hydrology studies, long-term cave mapping and cave gating.
Cave owners and others are encouraged to contact the Missouri Bat Census if they notice signs of WNS, such as bats making daytime flights during their winter hibernation.
Census members note that it’s important to disinfect clothing and gear before going from one cave to another in order to avoid spreading the fungus.
Photos and videos of the group’s trip to Cloud 9, as well as information about the group, can be found by searching for “Missouri Bat Census” on Facebook.