It’s a little known fact that Florida actually has a cave system, complete with stalactites and stalagmites – and even resident bats. For a state known for its shallow underground water system that prevents most people from even having basements, air-filled caves are an anomaly. You can find Florida’s caves at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, Florida, which is in the northwestern part of the state (between Tallahassee and Panama City).
Bats are often associated with caves (and also with Halloween), and the flying mammals were in the spotlight this week during National Bat Week.
Bats deserve their own week and all the attention they can get. For one thing, bats are frequently misunderstood and feared; there’s the whole vampire mythos, not to mention their prominence in Halloween décor.
Kid-friendly books like Stellaluna have helped us understand that not all bats ‘vant to suck your blood’! Stellaluna is a fruit bat and therefore a pollinator. Just like bees, bats like Stellaluna help to disperse seeds and pollinate hundreds of types of fruit trees, like mangos and bananas. Then there are the swarms of bats that frequently appear in my backyard at dusk to dive-bomb the mosquitos gathering there. Bats in the U.S. eat tons of insects, which helps decrease the use of pesticides and control some insect-borne diseases.
Recently I had the good fortune to visit Linville Caverns in North Carolina. Although this cave system differs from our rare Florida ones, one thing they have in common is a concern for the creatures that shelter there. At caverns around the country, you’ll hear about the fungal disease that is threatening bat populations across the U.S. White-nose Syndrome has reportedly killed as many as 6 million bats in North America, and is putting many species at risk for extinction. If you do visit a cave system, you’ll likely be asked to wipe your feet with a bleach/water solution upon exiting the cave, like we did at Linville Caverns. This is a precaution to help stop the spread of White-nose Syndrome.
Even celebrities are coming to the aid of bats. Check out this video hosted by Zack Snyder, the director for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and two of the film’s actors: Ben Affleck and Amy Adams.
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Images: Christine Janesko