Conservation // 5 min Read

An Unconventional Home on the Bluff

Written by Dr. Mary Socci

Apr 5, 2017

With its simple lines and contemporary feel, a new house in the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy’s River Road Preserve is an unusual addition to the architectural aesthetics of Palmetto Bluff. But this model home wasn’t constructed to fit in to one of the Bluff’s charming neighborhoods. It was designed for chiropteran residents—in other words—bats.

You may have seen bats flying around as dusk falls, the time when many species emerge from their roosts in search of tasty insect morsels—and a bat that has just woken up from a good day’s sleep is hungry; it may eat over a thousand insects in a single night. (It’s no surprise they are one of the most beneficial animals to have around!)

For the past two years, the Conservancy has been studying the bats of Palmetto Bluff by catching them in mist nets (if you were out on the River Road Preserve Trail in March you may have seen the nets) and recording the high frequency calls that they make as they echolocate their prey. By identifying the species that live here and recording details of their behavior, the Conservancy is collecting critical information at a time when bats are threatened by habitat loss, disease, and the use of wind power (thousands of bats are killed by wind turbines each year).

Although the Conservancy team expected to collect new data on the bats of the Lowcountry, no one was prepared for the discovery of northern long-eared bats, a federally threatened species thought to occur only to our north and east. Yet, in November 2016, two northern long-eared bats were caught in the River Road Preserve. This news elated the Conservancy team and bat biologists throughout the country—northern long-eared bats are rapidly disappearing in other parts of their range because of a fungal infection known as white nose syndrome, so to have this species at Palmetto Bluff means that there may be populations that are thriving in other locations.

Bats in our area spend the day resting in hollow trees, in Spanish moss, in the dead fronds of palmetto trees or under the flaking bark of a pine tree. Still, there is nothing like a new bat house! BatBNB, a company that constructs bat houses, donated the bat house in the River Road Preserve and the Conservancy put it up where the northern long-eared bats were caught. If conditions are just right, there may be a young family or two moving in soon.