CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Conservationists have built an artificial bat cave deep in the Tennessee woods to see if it can be a blueprint for saving bats who are dying by the millions from a fungus spreading across North America.
The $300,000 project by The Nature Conservancy is believed to be the first man-made hibernating structure for bats in the wild. Unlike natural caves, it will be cleaned annually to keep the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome from reaching lethal levels.
The cave is assembled from prefabricated concrete sections. At 78 feet long and 16 feet wide, it is about the size of a single-wide mobile home. It has an 11-foot-tall ceiling that is textured so bats can cling to it.
Most of the cave was then covered with at least 4 feet of soil. All that can be seen from the surface is an air intake that serves as the bat entrance.
The artificial cave is placed near a natural cave with an established hibernation population of gray bats. The plan is to coax some of them to the new digs by emitting ultra-sonic bat calls on loudspeakers.
White-nose syndrome, named for the sugary smudges found on affected bats’ snouts, prompts bats to wake from hibernation and die when they fly into the winter landscape in a futile search for food. First detected in upstate New York in 2006, the fungal infection has killed more than 5.7 million bats as it spread from the Northeast.