Caves tend to bring out the Indiana Jones in all of us. Standing at the entrance to a gaping hole in the earth, we imagine being the first to explore its passages, or dream of discovering the hidden treasure of Jonathan Swift.
Kentucky caves are just as likely to hold another treasure:
The state is currently home to three endangered species, including the Indiana bat, the gray bat, and the Virginia big-eared bat. Winter is the worst time to disturb any bat hibernating in a cave.
“All bats in Kentucky eat insects. But insects aren’t available in winter, so bats hibernate in caves,” says Traci Ann Hemberger, endangered species biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
“They have enough fat stored in their bodies to make it through spring,” Hemberger continues. “When people go into caves and disturb the bats, they use up that stored energy–as much as two to three weeks’ worth every time they’re disturbed.”
During hibernation, the bat’s heart slows and its temperature drops. It takes a while for the bat to get its system back to normal. So even if you spot a bat hanging on the ceiling and it doesn’t move when you shine a flashlight on it, the chances are that it will move after you’re gone. If bats are disturbed too often, they may die before the end of winter.
If you spot a mass of bats clustered together within a few hundred yards of a cave’s entrance, you’re probably looking at a federally endangered species. It’s best to leave quietly and immediately.
Unfortunately, there are vandals out there willing to commit a federal crime by killing endangered bats. This happened last October at Carter Caves State Resort Park. Someone pelted a cluster of hibernating Indiana bats with rocks, killing more than 100. The park and its caves are home to 45,000 Indiana bats, the largest hibernating colonies in the state.
There’s simply no excuse for this crime. Bats in Kentucky do not suck blood from unsuspecting humans. Like any mammal, they may carry rabies. However, less than one-half of 1 percent of bats have rabies. In other words, you stand a better chance of being hit by lightning than being bitten by a rabid bat.
Not every cave in Kentucky has bats. However, if you do spot bats while exploring a cave this winter, give them a break. Leave them alone.
Hunting and fishing licenses for the 2008-09 season are now available at vendors across the state. You may also obtain them online at fw.ky.gov, or by calling (877) 598-2401, at any time of day.