By Melanie Addington/Oxford Eagle
OXFORD — The Mississippi Bat Working Group is always looking for fellow enthusiasts of the winged creatures to help build habitats.
The group recently teamed up with Volunteer Oxford to begin finding volunteers to assist with the nonprofit organization.
MBWG, formed in 2001, consists of people interested in biology, conservation, ecology and bat management and their habitats on state, federal and private lands in Mississippi. The group has an annual meeting and annual mist-net event where nets are set up across creeks and bats are caught and identified before being released.
“A major objective of the Mississippi Bat Working is to share information and expertise regarding bat conservation and management to all organizations and individuals interested in bats,” National Audobon Society and MBWG member Andrew Schuhmann said.
“Members are routinely involved in educational activities and research efforts in order to promote bat conservation in Mississippi.”
Bat House Coordinator Shea Staten is in need of volunteers to help with the database to register all bat houses.
“We want to reach out to as many Mississippians as possible to promote the conservation of our Mississippi bats. With volunteer efforts, I believe we can construct enough houses to be able to place a bat house in every county in Mississippi.
“It will require a lot of work and a lot of help from volunteers to get the houses constructed, but I believe it can be done,” Staten said.
While the eventual goal is to have more than one bat house per county statewide, the start of having all 82 counties with at least one house is a good beginning.
Bat houses require specific construction dimensions, as well as specific placement needs, Staten said.
“In Mississippi, bat houses can be painted a dark brown, require eight to 10 hours of sunlight, and the entrance should be 10 feet or greater from the ground,” Staten said. “They should also face south to southeast to help meet these sun requirements. A local source of water also plays a role in whether or not a site is suitable for a bat house.”
Bat houses are used when bats are booted out of their normal nesting areas. Bat houses are put up to attract the newly evicted bats. Volunteers can help construct bat houses, participate in the database entry and volunteers are also needed to allow houses onto their property.
Bat houses require eight to 10 hours of sunlight and should be 10 feet off the ground.
Bats are struggling due to a fungal disease discovered in 2006, White Nose Syndrome, or WNS, that has killed more than 5.5 million bats in North America. Mississippi has not yet been hit with the disease, Staten said.
“WNS gets its name because of a white fungal growth that appears on the wings, ears and muzzle of bats infected by Geomyces destructans,” Staten said.
“It is a cold weather fungus that affects the bats while they are hibernating and causes them to arouse from their energy saving sleep (also called torpor).
“This disease is spread from bat-to-bat by direct contact and humans likely transfer the fungal spores on their shoes and clothing. This is why a lot of caves and known roost sites have been closed off to people, because of fear of introducing WNS to an otherwise uncontaminated area.”
WNS has been identified in Alabama, which Staten said is not good news for Mississippi bats.
Dismissed as blood suckers or flying rodents, the positive contributions made by bats are rarely praised. But consider this: Bats eat insects and help save the U.S. agricultural industry more than $3.7 billion dollars a year in pest control, Staten said.
“Mississippi’s No. 1 industry is agriculture,” Staten said. “A lot of pests that bats eat can impact humans — mosquitoes, cotton bollworms, green stinkbugs and army worms to name a few. Bats have always been allies to us, and it is now time for us to help them before it is too late.”
While WNS has not yet affected Lafayette County bats, habitat loss does cause problems.
“Habitat loss is still a major problem for bats, especially here in Mississippi,” Staten said. “Loss of mature hardwoods and destruction of riparian zones have been detrimental to bat populations.”
Mississippi Bat Working Group, http://www.volunteeroxford.org