Story and photos by Kenton Lohraff
Special to GUIDON
Bat Week is Oct. 24 through 31 and exists to bring awareness to the role these flying mammals play in nature.
Bats face increasing threats, from habitat loss to diseases to pesticide poisoning. They are often underappreciated in their ecological importance and role as pest control.
There are just under 50 bat species in the United States and 12 of the 14 species found in Missouri have been documented on Fort Leonard Wood. There are subtle differences in color and size — the wingspan of the hoary bat, for instance, can be more than a foot long, while the tricolored bat has a wingspan of less than eight inches.
All bat species here are aerial insectivores and use echolocation to forage nocturnally in the air for insect prey. Bats eat copious amounts of insects, including mosquitoes, and are excellent bioindicators; their continued presence is a sign of overall health of the environment.
Fort Leonard Wood’s geology features springs, sink-holes and numerous caves. These, along with the forests here, provide perfect habitat for bats. Three species found here have special protections under the federal Endangered Species Act: the gray bat, Indiana bat and northern long-eared bat.
Outdoor enthusiasts most commonly encounter bats on the installation during the twilight hours of morning and evening. They are regularly seen along streams or forest edges but are also frequently observed in the cantonment area at this time of year.
A few species — commonly big brown bats — are sometimes encountered day roosting on buildings, porches or other structures. Please leave them alone if possible and they will usually fly away the next evening. Miller Cave visitors may encounter one of several species of bats. Please do not touch or disturb them by shining light in their direction for too long.
Bat species have differing habitat needs and uses, and not all bats commonly use caves. Some roost in trees, and for that reason Fort Leonard Wood has seasonal tree protection measures in place. Caves where bats are known to hibernate are off limits during certain times of the year, and posted signs provide information for outdoor enthusiasts.
The Directorate of Public Works Natural Resources Branch monitors the installation’s bat populations with help from state, federal and university conservation partners. This includes acoustic surveillance to record and interpret their ultrasonic echolocation calls as well as counts at cave roost sites, swarming surveys and capture — bats are sometimes fitted with temporary radio telemetry equipment to track their movement.
Due to the off-limits areas and timing restrictions on tree removal and obscurant smoke use, most military training on the post does not directly impact bat populations.
For more information on any of Fort Leonard Wood’s fish and wildlife populations, call the DPW Natural Resources Branch at 573.596.2814 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Editor’s note: Lohraff is the DPW Natural Resources Branch chief.)