Alabama is a state of great biological diversity and bats are no exception. With over 6,000 caves hidden in the state's karst geology and extensive forests, Alabama provides a home to 16 species of cave and tree dwelling bats. Alabama's bats are insectivores and provide a great economic benefit to the people of Alabama, consuming millions of crop pests each evening. Scientists estimate the pest control services provided by bats in the United States exceed $3 billion a year. Yet the well-being of bats in Alabama is a concern, as they face a number of environmental threats including habitat destruction, water pollution, pesticide uses, disturbance of caves, and White-Nose Syndrome. All but one of Alabama's bat species are listed as Highest, High, or Moderate Conservation Concern in the State's Wildlife Action Plan. Three Alabama bat species are listed as Threatened or Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Seven species are State Protected.
The Alabama Bat Monitoring and Conservation Program seeks to manage, protect, conserve, and enhance the native bat species of Alabama. The Program pursues this mission by monitoring bat populations, catalyzing research, promoting partnerships through the Alabama Bat Working Group, and providing technical assistance to the public.
Nicholas Sharp, 256-353-2634
Alabama Bat Working Group (ABWG)
The ABWG was formed in February 2009 to bring together individuals, organizations, and agencies interested in conserving Alabama's bat species. The purpose of the group is to coordinate, facilitate, and focus bat conservation, research, monitoring, and outreach in Alabama. The state Nongame Biologist for North Alabama serves as lead for the the ABWG.
The program endeavors to monitor Alabama's bat populations through the following activities:
- White-Nose Syndrome surveillance. White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) is a devastating fungal disease from Europe that infects cave dwelling bats in hibernation. Over 6 million bats have been killed in North America. Alabama is conducting a surveillance program to monitor the extent of WNS in the state. Each winter, Nongame Program staff and partners from the ABWG inspect bat hibernacula, looking for visible signs of disease and collecting biological samples to test for the presence of the fungus that causes the disease. They also count the number of bats of each species to track the effects of WNS on Alabama cave dwelling bat populations. Current WNS Range Map.
- Gray Bat cave emergence counts. The gray bat is a federally endangered species that roosts in caves in both summer and winter. North Alabama is a stronghold for the species, being home to both the most important cave and most important hibernacula for the entire species. Each summer Nongame Biologists monitor the gray bat population by counting bats at priority gray bat caves as they emerge in the evening to forage.
- Search for new significant bat locations. Within the last 2 years, Nongame Program Biologists have documented the largest known summer population of southeastern bats in Alabama, documented only the second known maternity cave for southeastern bats in the state, documented 3 previously unknown hibernacula for southeastern bats, discovered the largest known Alabama population of Brazilian Free-tailed bats in an abandoned railroad tunnel, and documented a new significant gray bat cave.
- ABWG Bat Blitz. Each year Nongame Biologists participate in the ABWG Bat Blitz. The purpose of the Bat Blitz is to focus on a locale in Alabama that has been poorly sampled for bats and bring together bat biologists and enthusiasts from across the state for three days of intense bat surveys.
The Alabama Nongame Program works with Federal, State, non-governmental, and private entities to secure protection for major bat caves in Alabama. Some of these partners are:
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program
- ADCNR, State Lands Division
- ADCNR, State Parks Division
- Forever Wild Land Trust
- Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc.
- The Nature Conservancy, Alabama Chapter
- National Speleological Society
- Private Landowners
Bat Species Locations in Alabama
The Alabama Natural Heritage Section maintains the State Natural Heritage Database. County-level information on the occurrence of bat species in Alabama is open to the public with a free user account.
Historically, bats used caves and trees for roost sites. Human disturbance of caves and clearing of forests has dramatically reduced natural roosting opportunities for bats. Many bats have found human structures to be suitable substitutes for roosting sites. Some people are happy to provide a surrogate home for bats as long as the bats do not enter their living spaces and bats and humans do not come in direct contact with each other. Others are not comfortable sharing buildings with bats. The following links provide more information should you find the need to exclude bats from buildings:
- Bats in Buildings
- Removing a Single Bat
- Alabama Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage - Bats
- Permitted Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators in Alabama
Bats and Rabies
Bats, like many other mammals, can contract and transmit rabies, as well as other diseases. Although rabies has been found at one time or another in most species of bats in the United States, it is relatively uncommon. Rabid bats seldom are aggressive. Fewer than 40 people in the United States are known to have contracted rabies from bats in the past 40 years; in fact, rabies was not known to occur in bats until the 1950's. Far more people are killed by dog attacks, bee stings, power mowers, or lightening than rabies. However, because bats can carry and transmit rabies, they should not be handled. This is especially true for bats found on the ground, because they may be unhealthy. See Bat Conservation International's Bats and Human Health information page for details on bats and rabies.
|Sauta Cave emergence. Photo by Keith Hudson|
Viewing Bats in Alabama
Alabama's Sauta Cave features the largest evening emergence of bats east of the Mississippi. Read more about this and other bat viewing opportunities in Alabama: View Bats in Alabama
Additional Information on Bats