Untamed Lowcountry

Creatures of the night: Everything you need to know about Lowcountry bats

Catch and release: Big brown bat netted and released at Palmetto Bluff

A research class on bat acoustics set up nets to catch bats at Palmetto Bluff on April 26, 2017. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Jennifer Kindel freed a big brown bat from the net, recorded the bat's weight, forea
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A research class on bat acoustics set up nets to catch bats at Palmetto Bluff on April 26, 2017. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Jennifer Kindel freed a big brown bat from the net, recorded the bat's weight, forea

As spring has sprung in the Lowcountry, several critters have come out of hibernation.

Alligators have been spotted all over the place.

On the greens.

An alligator swam around for a bunch of spectators in a pond off of No. 10 during the final round of the RBC Heritage presented by Boeing on Sunday, April 16, 2017, at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island, S.C.

On someone’s front porch.

Steve Polston and his family thought someone was breaking into their house in the Mount Pleasant area of Charleston but discovered a nine foot alligator had climbed onto their porch. This GoPro video was filmed by a South Carolina DNR contractor.

Blocking traffic.

IMG_6262 (2) (2)
An alligator dramatically stopped traffic on U.S. 278 Monday near the Fresh Market shopping center on Hilton Head Island. Nancy Pinne Submitted photo.

But another Lowcountry critter that isn’t quite as visible has also come out of hibernation: Bats.

Bats aren’t only flying freely now, but it’s officially the start of pup season.

Pups could be born anytime between now and August, though most commonly by the end of June.

Bat Biologist Jennifer Kindel of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources said the state's bat species will typically only have one to two pups each.

“Some of them mate in the fall and then everything stays inside the female until it’s time to pup this time of year, which is pretty fascinating,” she said.

Palmetto Bluff hosted a class the last week of April on bat acoustics. Because bats mostly come out at night, echolocation is not only a key to their success as hunters, but it provides a means for biologists to track bats’ activity.

For the Palmetto Bluff class, bat biologists who came from all over the country used Anabat Walkabout Active Bat Detectors — audio devices that pick up echolocation with such accuracy the biologists can even identify species by simply looking at the waveform.

As the waveforms showed, bats are constantly emitting these signals.

Chris Corben of Titley Scientific, the makers of the device, explained bats’ echolocation changes based on where they are in the environment.

For example, some bats emit a “feeding buzz” once they’ve detected an insect. As the bat gets closer to its prey, it changes its call.

“When they get really close to a feeding source, (the frequency) can go up to 200 pulses per second,” Corben said.

FEEDING CALL
Data collected from an Anabat Walkabout Active Bat Detector shows a bat’s feeding call. Ashley Jean Reese Staff photo

Perhaps even more fascinating than how their echolocation changes during feeding, however, is exactly how bats catch their prey.

“Bats don’t catch insects in their mouth from midair,” Corben explained. “First, they swat the bugs with their wings in a swooping motion. Then they reach down with their mouths and grab it.”

Dr. Mary Socci of the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy said biologists have netted quite a variety of bat species at Palmetto Bluff over the past few years.

This includes the netting of a species not seen before in this part of the state earlier in the year: the northern long-eared bat. The conservancy’s find was the first for coastal South Carolina.

A conversation with Palmetto Bluff Conservancy executive director Jay Walea and associate director Mary Socci about their excitement over the unusual discovery of long-eared bats at Palmetto Bluff.

Socci said other species biologists have netted or recorded waveforms for include eastern red bats, seminole bats, northern yellow bats, big brown bats, evening bats, hoary bats and Brazilian free-tailed bats.

Kindel said the state is home to a total of 14 different species of bats.

She said eastern red bats are probably among the most common, as well as big brown bats and tricolor bats. The biologists have spotted all three species at Palmetto Bluff.

“What we’ve been seeing here is representative of the state for common bats,” she said.

When most people think about bats, the common reaction is fear or disgust.

Bats have been described as “flying rats,” known for carrying Rabies and other diseases.

They’re a staple in horror movies and Halloween decorations — portrayed as monstrous creatures that aim to suck humans’ blood and otherwise cause fright.

Don’t be afraid: There aren’t any vampire bats in the Lowcountry. And as far as we know, there aren’t any real-life vampires either.

What people might not realize is bats are extremely beneficial creatures. How?

Their diet consists mainly of bugs. And not just a few bugs; as Socci explained, bats “may eat over a thousand insects in a single night.”

Kindel said bats not only help control certain bug populations, but the bugs that make up a large portion of a bat’s diet are known crop and forest pests.

According to SCDNR, this diet saves the state a lot of money — the most recent estimate placed the number around $115 million annually.

The financial benefit primarily stems from a reduction in the need for pesticides. But this reduction doesn’t just help the state’s budget; it also reduces harmful impacts of pesticides on other species.

But the bats need our help.

Their population is dwindling. In South Carolina, 86 percent of the state’s bats — 12 out of 14 species — are on the state’s highest priority list for the South Carolina State Wildlife Action Plan.

None of the state’s bats are considered federally endangered, but northern long-eared bats are considered “federally threatened,” and the eastern small-footed bat, Rafinesque’s big-eared bat and tricolored bats are all considered “at-risk species.”

A high percentage of this population loss comes from White Nose Syndrome.

Kindel explained this disease is caused by a fungus and spread by spores. The disease was brought from Europe to New York about 10 years ago, and spread from there.

“The spores get into a cave where the environment is just right for them to grow, and then infects the bat while the bat is hibernating,” Kindel said. “It infects their skin and wakes them up from hibernation.

Kindel said the bats waking up from hibernation is usually what causes White Nose Syndrome to become fatal.

“They end up dying from starvation and thirst because they’ll wake up when there’s nothing to eat or drink,” she said.

Five of the species that are common in South Carolina have been confirmed with the disease across the country, according to SCDNR.

Two species — tricolored bats and eastern small-footed bats — have been confirmed with the disease in the state.

Urbanization, human interference, forestry practices, environmental contaminants and wind turbines — which alone are responsible for an estimated 450,000 bat fatalities per year — have all led to the decline of the bat population.

Kindel said there are a few things South Carolinians can do to help:

First, try to avoid going into caves, mines, abandoned buildings or other areas where bats may be hibernating during the winter.

Second, don’t trim dead palm fronds. These fronds can provide perfect roosting spots for many South Carolina bat species.

In fact, most of the state’s bat species use trees for roosts. As Socci explained, they’ll roost in hollowed trees, dead Palmetto fronds, under the loose bark of a pine tree or even in Spanish moss.

Finally, one of the most helpful things a human can do for the bat population is put up a bat box.

Kindel says bat boxes typically should be placed about 14 feet high and in an area that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight. Bat Conservation International offers detailed instructions on installing bat boxes, and even where to buy them.

Facts about bats found in South Carolina

Curious about Lowcountry bats? Here are a few fast facts every South Carolinian should know about these creatures of the night.

Adapted from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources South Carolina Bat Conservation Plan. Refer to this resource for detailed threats and conservation steps being pursued or recommended for these species, as well. Find information about bat anatomy, including terms discussed below, here. Finally, gain an understanding of the NatureServe population risk definitions here. These are referred to under each “Population Status” heading.

Big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus)

Big-brown
Big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) roost in a Minnesota barn Connor Long Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/createCommonsLicense)

Description: One of the most widespread and abundant bat species in North America, the big brown bat is ubiquitous in South Carolina. This species is the third largest bat in the state, and like most bats is extremely beneficial ecologically. According to Whitaker (1995), in one summer a colony of 150 big brown bats consumes enough adult spotted cucumber beetles to prevent the production of 33 million of their larvae, a major pest of corn. This species is closely associated with humans, often roosting in human-made structures and commonly using buildings as hibernacula.

Distribution: Big brown bats range from southern Canada through southern North America into South America, and are present on islands of the Caribbean. In South Carolina, they are distributed statewide and found in all four physiographic provinces.

Food habits: Emerging within the first hour after sunset, the flight of big brown bats to foraging areas is at a height of approximately 20 to 35 feet and is strong and direct. The flight speed of this species out in the open is 20.5 miles per hour. Big brown bats travel an average distance of about 0.62 to 1.24 miles to foraging areas from their day roost. This species flies for an average of one hour and 40 minutes each night, with the majority of foraging activity happening within the second hour after sunset. Each night a few foraging bouts are made, interspersed with night roosting. Big brown bats are known to forage in a wide variety of habitats including open areas such as fields or large gaps within forests, over water and lake edges, and foraging around lights in rural areas.

Habitat: The big brown bat is a habitat generalist found in a wide variety of habitats, ranging from lowland deserts to timberline meadows. The abundance of this species increases as one moves from coniferous forests to deciduous forests eastern North America. Big brown bats also are abundant in urban areas.

Population status: Considered the most common bat species through most of its range, the big brown bat is ranked as Globally Secure. However, they are a high priority species in SC because of concerns about severe white nose syndrome mortality in the Northeast.

Brazilian free-tailed (Tadarida brasiliensis)

Brazilian-free-tailed
Free-tailed bats roosting at a cave in the Bahamas. Public domain

Description: Brazilian free-tailed bats differ from all South Carolina bats in that they are a member of the Molossidae or “free-tailed bat” family and have a characteristic mouse-like tail extending past the membrane stretched between the hind legs. This species forms the largest concentrations of mammals in the world. Each year 100 million bats arrive in central Texas to raise their young, and the largest known bat colony in the world holds 20 million of those at Bracken Cave near San Antonio during the summer. The impressive amount of insects consumed by these colonies provides a substantial pest control service to humans. These bats are small to medium sized and weigh 0.4 to 0.5 ounces (11 to 15 grams) and has a wingspan of 11 to 14 inches. The upper lip is strongly wrinkled, the blackish ears are short and nearly square, and the short, velvety pelage is dark brown to dark gray. However, the pelage may bleach to various shades of reddish brown depending on the concentration of ammonia found at their roost site. The wings are long and narrow and the membranes are blackish. Short, powerful hind legs and large feet give this species excellent climbing abilities, and long hairs protruding from the toes are thought to judge flight speed and turbulence. Brazilian free-tailed bats are the fastest of all North American bats, flying at speeds of up to 40 to 60 miles per hour.

Distribution: This species is one of the most widely distributed mammals in the Western Hemisphere. It is found southward from the southern US through Mexico and Central America, and into large areas of South America. It is also present on islands of the Caribbean. In South Carolina in the past, Brazilian free-tailed bats were mainly distributed throughout the state south of the Piedmont region, but in recent years they have been commonly recorded in the upper Piedmont.

Food habits: Emerging around sunset, Brazilian free-tailed bats can cover an area of 154 square miles and are thought to feed all night. The numbers of this species are often so great that they can be detected by airport and weather radar, and the sound of their wings have been compared to that of a roaring river as they fly out from their roosting colonies. The Brazilian free-tailed bat has the highest recorded flight altitude among bats at over 10,826 feet and may fly up to 150 miles to reach foraging areas. They typically travel at a height of approximately 50 feet to reach foraging areas, and feed within 50 miles.

Habitat: From pine-oak forests from sea level to 9,000 feet in elevation, to pinion-juniper woodlands and desert ecosystems, this species is found in a wide variety of habitats throughout its range. They are also found in grassland, savanna, shrubland, suburban and urban habitats.

Population status: Common through most of its range, the Brazilian free-tailed bat is ranked as Globally Secure. This species is also considered locally common.

Eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis)

Eastern-red
A female Eastern red bat roosting. Chris Harshaw Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/createCommonsLicense)

Description: The eastern red bat is distinctive in its remarkable bright red to rusty-red pelage, and is known to be the most abundant foliage roosting bat in North America. Their unique color is a form of camouflage that mimics dead leaves or pinecones as they hang, wrapped by their furry tail membrane in the foliage of trees. Unusual in bat species, males and females seem to differ in color, with males being brighter red than females. However, this characteristic might be linked more to body size than sex. Eastern red bats are a solitary foliage roosting species and do not hibernate in caves. This species is a medium sized bat that weighs 0.3 to 0.5 ounces and has a wingspan of 11 to 13 inches. The brick red fur is soft and fluffy with some hairs tipped with white (more so in females and juveniles), and a buffy white patch on the front of the shoulders. The ears are broad, rounded and low on the head, and the tragus (protuberance of lower ear) is triangular. The wings of eastern red bats are long and pointed, and the dorsal side of the uropatagium is covered in thick fur. Their skull is short, broad and heavily constructed.

Distribution: Eastern red bats are distributed throughout southern Canada, into the eastern US (but not the Florida peninsula), and southward into northeastern Mexico, Argentina and Chile. In the US, their range extends west to the Midwestern and east-central states. In the winter, this species migrates to southern states and is found from southern Illinois and southern Indiana south. In South Carolina, eastern red bats are common statewide and found in all four physiographic provinces.

Food habits: Eastern red bats usually begin to forage about one to two hours after sunset, with the most active foraging periods corresponding to the initial, and later the increased, nocturnal activity of insects, though nursing adult females may feed all night. With a high aspect ratio and high wing loading, this species is only moderately maneuverable and can fly relatively fast. Eastern red bats may travel between 1,600 to 3,000 feet from day roosts to feeding sites. The distance traveled while foraging is around 0.25 to 3.2 miles and the foraging speed of this species is around 15 miles per hour on average. Eastern red bats may forage at or above treetop level, over water such as lakes or streams, habitat edges, open habitats, in cypress stands, and around lights where they may land on light poles to catch moths.

Habitat: Occurs throughout forested habitat of the eastern US, and is partial to elm trees, wooded hedgerows, and large shade trees in urban areas such as those found in city parks. In South Carolina, habitat types used in the home range of five eastern red bats tracked at the Savannah River Site included 55% bottomland hardwoods, 40% pine stands, and 5% upland hardwoods. Additionally, sparse vegetation was found to be the best predictor of habitat use by eastern red bats.

Population status: Common and abundant through most of its range, the eastern red bat is ranked as Globally Secure. This species is considered locally common, but is listed as a Highest Priority species in the South Carolina due to severe White Nose Syndrome-related mortality occurring in other bat species.

Eastern small-footed (Myotis leibii)

Eastern-small-footed
Eastern small-footed bat. Gary Peeples USFWS

Description: The eastern small-footed bat is the smallest bat in South Carolina. It is also one of the smallest and rarest bats in North America, despite having a wide distribution in the northeast. The eastern small-footed bat weighs 0.01 ounce and has a wingspan of 8 to 10 inches. This species is a small brown bat with a black mask, black ears, and distinctively small feet measuring only 0.2 to 0.3 inches. The pelage is black at the root with glossy brown on the tips, and is dark on the back and whitish to buff on the belly. The wing and tail membranes, as well as the muzzle, are a dark chocolate color. This species has short, broad wings with rounded wingtips. Most small rodents of this size only live around 1.5 years, but the eastern small-footed bat may live eight times longer. This species is known for its ability to tolerate colder temperatures than most bats, and it hibernates for a relatively shorter period during winter. Its slow, erratic flight is characteristic enough to identify this bat in the field. Unfortunately the eastern small-footed bat is extremely susceptible to white nose syndrome, and according to a 2014 study, an expected relative population reduction is estimated to be 71.2% in an intermediate population-reduction scenario (compared to a pessimistic scenario at 96.6%, and an optimistic scenario at 29.3%). An eastern small-footed bat was first discovered suffering from WNS in South Carolina at Table Rock State Park in 2013.

Distribution: This species is distributed from eastern Canada and New England southwest to southeastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, and southeast to northern Alabama, northern Georgia, and northwestern South Carolina. In South Carolina, eastern small-footed bats are limited to the extreme northern portion of the Blue Ridge region.

Food habits: Emerging at dusk shortly after sunset, the eastern small-footed bat flies slowly around a height of one to 10 feet, usually over water such as ponds and streams, but also in forest understory and canopy and open fields. Because this species has short, broad wings and rounded wingtips, they are extremely maneuverable in dense vegetation. The diet of the eastern small-footed bat consists mainly of flying insects.

Habitat: This species is found in mostly hilly or mountainous regions, in or near deciduous or evergreen forest, bottomland, floodplains, and sometimes in mostly open farmland. In Pennsylvania, this species was found in the foothills of mountains with an elevation of 2,000 feet mostly in heavy hemlock forests. They have also been found at elevations of 2,215 feet in Georgia, 2,450 feet in Virginia and 3,700 feet in Kentucky.

Population status: Considered uncommon through most of its range, the eastern small-footed bat has a rounded rank of Imperiled on both the Global and National levels, and is Subnationally ranked as Critically Imperiled. This species has never been regarded as abundant anywhere, and population trends are largely unknown. This may be in part because they’re overlooked in cave surveys due to solitary roosting at inconspicuous sites. In South Carolina the eastern small-footed bat is listed as a Highest Priority species and is designated as “in need of management” which equates to state threatened. In October 2013, the USFWS determined that the species did not warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act (USFWS 2013).

Evening (Nycticeius humeralis)

Evening
Evening bat. Public domain

Description: The evening bat is a medium sized bat with dark brown pelage above and paler below, generally with light ash-gray hair tips on the dorsal area. A common agricultural pest eaten by this species is the corn rootworm, and 1.25 million insects can be consumed in a single season by 100 evening bats. Also, females produce a litter that is the largest in relation to maternal size of all bats, which is 50% of her postpartum body mass. This species resembles many other bats from the Myotis genus and the big brown bat, but misidentification is avoided by the identification of the two upper incisors versus the four in Myotis species and the big brown bat. Evening bats weigh 0.2 to 0.5 ounces and have a wingspan of 10 to 11 inches. This species has a short, broad skull and the ears are short and rounded. The pelage is dark brown to blackish-brown on the upper side, and slightly lighter in color on the lower. The uropatagium on evening bats is furred at the base, but the dark brown-black ears, nose, and the rest of the wing membranes are hairless. Sexual dimorphism exists in the evening bat, with females consistently heavier than males.

Distribution: The evening bat is found throughout most of the eastern US and northeastern Mexico. It ranges north from Nebraska, Iowa, southern Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey to west in Kansas and eastern Texas, and south to Veracruz, Mexico. In the southern Appalachians this species is rare or absent. In South Carolina, it is common throughout the majority of the state and occurs in all physiographic provinces.

Food habits: Evening bats emerge from their roosts relatively early, leaving around dusk. For this species, foraging activity peaks in the early evening, and again just before dawn. They have a steady, slow flight, and begin at a height of about 43 to 82 feet, flying much closer to the ground as night falls. Though they are considered a clutter-adapted species, a substantial amount of foraging activity still happens above, compared to below or within, forest canopy, in South Carolina. Wetlands, bottomlands, and riparian areas are the primary foraging habitat of this species.

Habitat: Historically, evening bats were probably associated with bottomland forests, swamps, and wetlands. Today they are a forest dwelling species that inhabit eastern deciduous forests at elevations from sea level to 980 feet, and are commonly found along waterways.

Population status: Less common throughout most of its range, in the southern coastal states the evening bat is one of the most common bat species. This species is ranked as Globally Secure, and Nationally Secure. It is considered locally common and is not listed as a Priority species in South Carolina.

Hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus)

Hoary
A hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) roosting on the branch of a tree. Paul Cryan U.S. Geological Survey

Description: The hoary bat is the largest bat species in South Carolina, and has the widest range and is considered one of the faster bat species in North America. The pelage is striking compared to most bats, with a rich coloring of yellow, grey-brown, and dark brown with white tips that give this species a distinctive frosted or “hoary” appearance. The high wing loading and high aspect ratio of this species indicates that it is a fast, straight flier. The migratory speed of this species can exceed 13 miles per hour. Unfortunately, the hoary bat is the most prevalent among fatalities reported at wind-energy facilities in North America, and compose about half of an estimated 450,000 bat fatalities at wind facilities annually in North America. The hoary bat weighs 0.9 to 1.1 ounces and has a wingspan of 8 to 10 inches. This species has thick, dense, soft fur on the uropatagium and body that is highly insulative. The pelage is yellowish-brown to mahogany on the upper side, with white patches on the shoulders and wrists, and a patch of yellow on the throat. The hoary bat has a heavily furred membrane to the tip of its tail. The ears are rounded, thick, and edged black with the outer portion densely furred. The tragus (protuberance of lower ear) is broad and short. Females tend to be about 4% larger than males.

Distribution: The hoary bat has the broadest geographic distribution of bat species in the New World, and occurs from southern Canada through most of South America, including most of the United States (except southern Florida) and Hawaii. This species winters in southern California, the southeastern US, Mexico, and Guatemala. In South Carolina, this species has a more extensive distribution than any other bat, and is found statewide in all four physiographic provinces. However, hoary bats are probably rare in the state during summer due to their migratory patterns.

Food habits: Foraging by hoary bats does not begin until later in the evening, after many other bat species have already left their roosts. Hoary bats forage all night, and activity tends to peak during the middle of the night. There is little data available for distances hoary bats travel from roost sites to foraging sites, and may depend on local factors such as prey availability and abundance. Foraging areas may be located over a mile away from diurnal roosts and could include woodland, riparian, and wetland habitats in open areas within the forest, above the forest canopy, and over lakes and streams. Hoary bats are foraging specialists as they feed on relatively few orders of insects compared to other bats, and seems to prefer moths. However, this species is also known to consume grasshoppers, dragonflies and wasps.

Habitat: Because of the extensive range of the hoary bat, this species is found in an extremely wide variety of habitats. In the western U.S. these habitats include the arid deserts and ponderosa pine forests, and in the East, pine-hardwood forests. Additionally, they are seldom found in urban settings, and are most abundant in coniferous forests in the Pacific Northwest and deciduous forests of the plains states in the U.S. The wide elevation range hoary bats are found in varies from sea level in the Pacific Northwest to 10,170 feet in Colorado.

Population status: The hoary bat is less common in the eastern U.S. and northern Rockies than it is in the prairie states and northwestern U.S. It is ranked as Globally Secure and Nationally Secure. No population trend data exists for the hoary bat and it is listed as a Highest Priority species in the South Carolina.

Little brown (Myotis lucifugus)

Little-brown
Little brown bat with white nose syndrome. Public domain

Description: Though it is one of the most common bats throughout most of the northern US and Canada, in the southern part of its range the little brown bat is scarce or only common locally. Aided by its high maneuverability and a fast rate of mastication, this species is well adapted to rapidly consuming swarms of small insects and can eat 150 mosquitoes in 15 minutes. The longest life span of this species has been recorded at an impressive 30 years. White nose syndrome has greatly impacted populations of little brown bats in its northern range and threatens to push some populations to near extinction. The little brown bat is small to medium sized weighing 0.2 to 0.5 ounces, and has a wingspan of 9 to 11 inches. Its pelage is dark brown to cinnamon-buff with long glossy tips on the dorsum, and pale gray to buffy below. The ears and membranes of the wing and tail are dark brown to black. The ears are narrow and pointed, and the medium sized tragus (protuberance of lower ear) is blunt. When the ears are gently pressed forward, they reach only to the nostrils. The calcar is not keeled, and the hind foot is relatively large. Females tend to be slightly larger than males in weight (especially during winter). This small brown bat resembles the northern long-eared bat but misidentification is avoided by the identification of the long, pointed tragus (protuberance of lower ear) and ears that extend well beyond the nose in the northern long-eared bat. Additionally, the hairs on the feet of extend beyond the nail in the little brown bat but not in the northern long-eared bat.

Distribution: Little brown bats range from central Alaska and southern Canada into the southeastern and southwestern US, and are widely distributed. The southern limit of this species is in northern portions of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. In South Carolina in summer, little brown bats are found primarily in the Blue Ridge mountains, though there have also been a few confirmed reports in the Piedmont, Sandhills and lower Coastal Plain regions. However, it is unknown where most of South Carolina’s summer populations overwinter.

Food habits: Little brown bats emerge from their roosts shortly after dusk to feed, with the most activity occurring two to three hours after sunset. With low wing loading, a low aspect ratio, and rounded wing tips, this species is highly maneuverable, and travels around 0.6 to 9 miles from their day roosts to foraging areas. Little brown bats vary their hunting patterns over an evening. Initially feeding along margins of lakes and streams and in and out of vegetation 7 to 16 feet above the ground, they later forage 3 to 7 feet over the surface of water in groups. Little brown bats have been found to be most closely associated with riparian zones along streams greater than third-order in the central Appalachians. Not much is known about the home range or habitat use of this species in South Carolina.

Habitat: Little brown bats are habitat generalists found in a wide variety of ecosystems, likely using most cover types available to them. However, lakes and streams seem to play a significant factor in habitat use, as much of the foraging activity of this species is associated with aquatic habitats. Little is known about the habitat use and home range of this species in South Carolina.

Population status: This species is ranked as Globally Vulnerable, Nationally Vulnerable, and Subnationally Vulnerable. In South Carolina, the little brown bat is considered rare to locally common in scattered colonies, and is listed as a Highest Priority species, due in part to severe white nose syndrome mortality.

Northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis)

Northern-long-eared
One of two northern long-eared bats recently discovered in Palmetto Bluff is examined. Palmetto Bluff Conservancy

Description: This medium sized brown bat has short, broad wings well adapted to foraging in clutter and is often found in mature forests due to the importance of this habitat for roosting and foraging. White nose syndrome is a substantial threat to northern long-eared bats, as it is linked to mortality of up to 100% in some populations. Northern long-eared bats are particularly vulnerable to external threats due to traits that make it slow to recover, such as low fecundity. In October of 2013 the USFWS proposed a status of Endangered under the ESA for the northern long-eared bat due to threats from WNS. A determination of Threatened was made in April 2015. This species was found in Beaufort County in 2016. Northern long-eared bats weigh 0.2 to 0.3 ounces and have a wingspan of 9 to 10 inches. Its pelage is light brown to gray brown on the dorsum, and pale grayish brown to pale brown below. The ears and membranes of the wing and tail are slightly darker brown than the dorsal pelage. The ears are narrow and pointed, and the long tragus is pointed. When the ears are gently pressed forward, they reach beyond the tip of the nostrils. The calcar may either be slightly keeled or the keel may appear to be lacking. Females tend to be heavier than males. The northern long-eared bat resembles other Myotis species, but misidentification is avoided by the identification of the long, pointed tragus and ears that extend more than 2 mm beyond the tip of the nose. Additionally, this species has a faint black mask, longer rostrum, missing hair around the eyes, and is generally smaller than the little brown bat.

Distribution: Northern long-eared bats are widely but patchily distributed across eastern North America ranging from southern Canada and the central and eastern US, northwest to the Dakotas, west through the central states, and south to northern Florida. Historically, this species was more common in the northern portion of the range than the southern and western portions, and is still relatively uncommon in most of the South. In South Carolina, northern long-eared bats are found primarily in the Blue Ridge mountains where they have been considered common. There have also been a few confirmed reports in the Coastal Plain of North Carolina, and in November of 2016 two individuals were discovered on the Coastal Plain of South Carolina in Beaufort County. Currently however, the USFWS considers the range of the northern long-eared bat to be more extensive in the Upstate.

Food habits: Emerging to forage at dusk, the northern long-eared bat has peaks of foraging activity one to two hours after sunset and seven to eight hours after sunset. This species is considered a clutter-adapted species and often forages in densely forested areas. It has a relatively slow, maneuverable flight well adapted to a gleaning foraging strategy in canopy gaps and forested areas with open understories where prey is consumed off of foliage while feeding.

Habitat: Northern long-eared bats are often found in mature forests due to the importance of this habitat for roosting and foraging and may prefer old-growth. However, this species is also found in a variety of habitats including mature second-growth eastern deciduous forests, clearcuts, deferment harvests, streams, and road corridors. In South Carolina, sparse vegetation and mature tree stands were found to be the best predictor of foraging habitat use by northern long-eared bats.

Population status: Common over much of its range, this species has a rounded status of Critically Imperiled both Globally and Nationally, and Subnationally Apparently Secure. The northern long-eared bat is now listed as federally threatened. In South Carolina the northern long-eared bat is generally considered rare, is listed as a Highest Priority species in South Carolina and because of the federal threatened listing is now considered state threatened.

Northern yellow (Lasiurus intermedius)

Northern-yellow
Lasiurus intermedius, the northern yellow bat. National Fish and Wildlife Service

Description: The northern yellow bat is the second largest bat in South Carolina, but one of the least known mammalian species in the state. Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is a preferred roosting site of northern yellow bats, and the distribution of this species is therefore closely associated with the range of Spanish moss. Northern yellow bats differ from other tree roosting species such as eastern red bats in that only the dorsal surface of the uropatagium is furred, there are no white patches on the shoulders or wrists, and the ears are more pointed. This species is also more social and may form colonies during the nursing season. Very little is known about northern yellow bats compared to other North American bat species, and it is the least understood mammalian species in South Carolina. The northern yellow bat weighs 0.5 to 1.1 ounces and has a wingspan of 14 to 15 inches. The pelage is long and silky, and varies from yellow-orange to yellow-brown and is faintly washed with brown or gray above, and light yellow below. Females have four mammae and tend to be larger than males. The wing membranes are brownish, and the calcar is slightly keeled. The ears are relatively short and rounded, though they are considered more pointed than other tree roosting species.

Distribution: The distribution of the northern yellow bat is poorly known, but is thought to be restricted to the coastal areas of the southeastern US and southward into Central America. In the US this species has been found as far north as coastal New Jersey, though it was presumed to be an accidental occurrence, and in Virginia. The range extends south to the Coastal Plain of Georgia and Alabama and into Florida, and west along the coast to south-central Texas and southward into eastern Mexio. In South Carolina, this species is found in the Lower Coastal Plain and into the Upper Coastal Plain along the Savannah River.

Food habits: Northern yellow bats are known to leave their roosts well before dark to forage. Considered a high-flying bat, this species forages 16 to 23 feet above the ground in open areas such as golf courses, airports, and fields; in croplands, marshes, lake margins, and forest openings; and over piles of sawdust in Florida.

Habitat: Northern yellow bats are generally associated with Spanish moss or palm trees in coastal habitats of the southeastern US, and typically found in wooded areas near permanent water. They are also found in lowland prairie, marsh, and wooded habitats of Texas, as well as dry upland sites in the central peninsula of Florida and throughout the state.

Population status: Density and population estimates for northern yellow bats are unknown across its range, and are not available for South Carolina. This species is generally considered to be rare except in central Florida where it is the most abundant bat. It is considered Apparently Secure both Globally and Nationally and is Subnationally Unranked. This species is listed as a Highest Priority species in South Carolina due in part to the lack of information about northern yellow bats and the severe white nose syndrome deaths in other bat species.

Rafinesque's big-eared (Corynorhinus rafinesquii)

Rafinesques-big-eared
A Rafinesque’s big-eared bat captured and banded in Mississippi. CS Jordan Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/createCommonsLicense

Description: A species endemic to bottomland hardwood forests of South Carolina’s Coastal Plain, the Rafinesque’s big-eared bat has the longest ears of all bat species found in the state. They eat destructive moth larvae pests, disease-transmitting flies, and horse and deer flies. Though populations of this bat are not currently large enough to have a large impact, they are still a main predator of these insect species. Unfortunately, loss and degradation of bottomland hardwood forest habitat has likely been a long-time driving factor contributing to the limited populations and vulnerability of Rafinesque’s big-eared bats. They are a medium sized bat with ears that measure 1.5 inches long. The ears are often coiled alongside the head during torpor, and take a few minutes to uncoil (inflate) when bats are disturbed. Another distinctive feature of this species are the facial glands located on either side of the nose. Rafinesque’s big-eared bats weigh 0.3 to 0.5 ounces and have a wingspan of 10 to 12 inches. The pelage is a gray brown to dark brown above and whitish with dark rooted hairs below, and the hair on the claws extend past the toes.

Distribution: Rafinesque’s big-eared bat occurs throughout the South, ranging north to southern Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, west to southern Missouri and eastern Texas, and east to West Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida. This distribution has been thought to include most southern states, but this species has yet to be found in the Piedmont of South Carolina and North Carolina. The subspecies C. r. Rafinesquii is distributed within the southern Appalachian mountains from West Virginia south into South Carolina and Georgia, and the subspecies C. r. macrotis is distributed along the Coastal Plain of North Carolina and South Carolina, and south into Georgia and Florida.

Food habits: This species may emerge late in the evening to forage, though in South Carolina they have been found to emerge not long after sunset until around midnight before emerging again to forage a few hours before sunrise. The Rafinesque’s big-eared bat is a highly maneuverable flier that can navigate well in dense vegetation and hover in place, often foraging about 3 feet from the ground gleaning insects from foliage.

Habitat: The Rafinesque’s big-eared bat is usually found in mature bottomland hardwood forests of Mississippi and Ohio River valleys and the southeastern US in stands of mature cypress and tupelo-gum. Other habitats used include open, mature, pine flatwoods in Florida and South Carolina, mature oak-hickory forests in Kentucky, mixed juniper and loblolly pine habitat in Texas, and in hardwood stands surrounded by contrasting ecosystem habitats known as hammocks in Florida.

Population status: Over most of its range, Rafinesque’s big-eared bat is an uncommon species with scattered populations. Even though it is widespread in the South, it’s not considered abundant and in the past century population levels appear to have declined. Rafinesque’s big-eared bat is listed as Vulnerable both Globally and Nationally and is Subnationally Imperiled. This species is listed as State Endangered, and is a Highest Priority species in South Carolina. It is estimated that around 4,000 Rafinesque’s big-eared bats hibernate in six major cave roosts in the Appalachian Mountains and central plateaus of Kentucky and North Carolina, and that smaller colonies composed of less than 50 individuals exist throughout the southeast.

Seminole bat (Lasiurus seminolus)

Seminole
A Seminole bat caught by ecologist Gary Libby for a bat survey conducted by the U.S. Forest Service, Florida Bat Working Group, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the University of Florida. Porter Libby U.S. Forest Service

Description: Throughout the southeast, the Seminole bat is one of the most common bats seen flying in the evening, especially on warm winter nights. As with the northern yellow bat, this species roosts in Spanish moss and therefore is very closely associated with lowland wooded areas where Spanish moss occurs. The Seminole bat was once considered to be a subspecies of the eastern red bat because of its similar size and appearance, but the color of the pelage distinguishes these species, as eastern red bats are more brick red in color. The Seminole bat is a medium sized bat with a rich mahogany pelage frosted with white tips above, and slightly paler below. This species weighs 0.3 to 0.5 ounces and has a wingspan of 11 to 12 inches. Their furred ears are short and rounded, and the tail membrane is furred to the tip of its tail. The wings of this species are long and pointed. They are similar to eastern red bats in that they have distinctive white patches on the wrist and shoulder.

Distribution: Seminole bats typically range from the southeastern tip of Virginia south to Florida, west to east Texas along the Gulf Coast States, and north to southeastern Oklahoma and southern Arkansas. There are a few isolated records as far north as New York and Pennsylvania. In South Carolina, this species is commonly found in the upper and lower Coastal Plain, but there are also a few fall and summer records in the Piedmont and Blue Ridge regions.

Food habits: Seminole bats are fast, direct flyers that forage at dusk. They feed at treetop level around 20 to 50 feet, 65 to 164 feet above open water and along edges of cypress swamp, or glean prey from leaf surfaces or even the ground. They are also known to forage over forest clearings, woods, pine barrens, upland and bottomland hardwoods habitat and corridors, and sometimes coastal prairies and hammocks.

Habitat: Seminole bats are found in lowland wooded areas where Spanish moss occurs, often in mature pine-dominated forest such as pine-oak and longleaf pine, mixed pine-hardwood, upland hardwood forests, islands, prairies, shrub swamp, blackgum forest, pure bay forest, bald cypress and pure and mixed cypress.

Population status: Considered common throughout the Deep South, the Seminole bat is ranked as Globally Secure, Nationally Secure and Subnationally Unranked. There are no population density estimates for this species, though in suitable habitat it is thought to be abundant. The Seminole bat is listed as a Highest Priority species in South Carolina due in part to severe white nose syndrome mortality occurring in other bat species.

Silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagas)

Silver-haired
Male silver-haired bat captured in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in 2010. Larisa Bishop-Boros Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/createCommonsLicense)

Description: One of the most common bats found in forested habitats across most of the US, the silver-haired bat is easily recognized by its blackish-brown pelage with silvery-white tips above, and paler with less pronounced frosting below. This solitary tree roosting bat is highly dependent on old-growth forests, and one of the slowest flying bats in North America with a flight speed of 10.7 to 11.2 miles per hour. Silver-haired bats migrate from northern areas during fall to more southern locations to hibernate in caves at 28.4 to 31.1°F and/or use daily torpor interspersed with bouts of foraging in warmer areas. These seasonal migrations can be quite extensive. For example, one researcher predicted that this species could travel approximately 932 miles from the north side of Lake Erie to the southeastern US in five to six nights without refueling. This medium-sized bat has black ears that are hairless, rounded and short with a blunt tragus. The wing and tail membranes are black, and the basal upper half of the outside of the tail membrane is densely furred. The frosted appearance of the pelage in this bat is less pronounced in older bats. This species weighs 0.3 to 0.4 ounces and has a wingspan of 11 to 12 inches.

Distribution: The silver-haired bat is distributed throughout southern Canada and most of the US, reaching its southern limit in the Southeast and Southwest. In South Carolina, this species is distributed statewide and found in all four physiographic provinces. However, this distribution may vary seasonally since individuals are known to migrate. During the winter they are distributed statewide, but during summer they are not generally found in the lower Piedmont or Coastal Plain.

Food habits: The silver-haired bat often emerges later in the evening after other species have left to forage, and foraging activity has been shown to peak two to four hours after sunset and six to eight hours after sunset. This species has short, broad wings and a slow, agile flight of 10.4 to 11.2 miles per hour, and captures small insects at close range.

Habitat: This species is typically found in forests and riparian zones including those in deciduous, coniferous, and mixed coniferous types adjacent to water. Old-growth habitats with more diverse structure tend to be preferred for both roost availability and foraging suitability. The elevation range at which this species is found is between sea level to at least 6,000 feet.

Population status: Considered widespread in the US, though perhaps erratic in abundance, the silver-haired bat is ranked as Globally Secure, Nationally Secure and Subnationally Unranked. However, this species is listed as a Highest Priority species in South Carolina because of severe WNS-related mortality occurring in other bat species, and the fact that the fungus responsible for WNS, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, has been detected on silver-haired bats but no diagnostic sign of WNS has been documented.

Southeastern bat (Myotis austroriparius)

Southeastern
Southeastern myotis (Myotis austroriparius) hibernating. John MacGregor Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources

Description: The southeastern bat is endemic to bottomland hardwood forests of South Carolina’s Coastal Plain, and are rarely far from cypress-gum swamps and mature bottomland hardwood forests near lakes and slow moving streams. One of the unique characteristics of this species is that it’s the only North American Myotis that normally gives birth to two young instead of one. It has been hypothesized that because this species has longer periods of annual activity, having two young may be an adaptation to increased exposure to predation. The southeastern bat is a small to medium sized bat, with females generally larger than females. This species weighs 0.2 to 0.3 ounces and has a wingspan of 9 to 11 inches. The calcar is unkeeled, the hairs between the toes extend to or past the claws, and the wing membrane attaches at the base of the toe. The tragus is relatively short and rounded compared to other Myotis species. The southeastern bat is highly variable in color, with tan or white below and three distinct dorsal pelage color phases including red, gray/brown, and a mixture of the two. Generally, the pelage is dark at the base with whitish tips, and is thick, wooly, and relatively short. This species resembles the little brown bat, but the little brown bat has conspicuously burnished hair tips, longer, silkier pelage, and does not have whitish tips on its underside.

Distribution: Southeastern bats are distributed through the southeastern US from southern Illinois and Indiana in the north, west to southeastern Oklahoma and northeastern Texas, south to northern Florida, and east to southern North Carolina. In South Caroina, it is limited to upper and lower Coastal Plain.

Food habits: Southeastern bats emerge to forage within the first three hours after sunset, and on warmer nights two peaks of foraging activity have been observed. This species prefers to forage over water in bald cypress-tupelo gum swamps and bottomland hardwood forests in Illinois, Arkansas, and South Carolina. They are also found foraging over slow-moving creeks next to upland pine and hardwood forest and narrow beech-magnolia bottoms, in wetlands and mature forested wetlands, over water in managed pine forests, and over livestock ponds. In dry areas, they are found foraging in live oak habitats, fields, and upland woodlots. In the Coastal Plain of South Carolina, southeastern bats are known to forage most actively in Carolina bay wetlands, bottomland hardwood forests and river swamps, and forest gaps, with most activity in stands of trees between 21 to 40 years.

Habitat: Permanent sources of water play an important factor in the habitat associated with southeastern bats. In the southern coastal plain and lowlands, this species is rarely far from cypress-gum swamps and mature bottomland hardwood forests near lakes and slow moving streams. Common tree species associated with these habitats include black gum, water tupelo, bald cypress, water oak, willow oak, and swamp chestnut oak. Southeastern bats have also been found in upland pine forests, oak-pine and longleaf pine.

Population status: Though the range of this species covers much of the southeastern US, range-wide population estimates are extremely difficult to determine due to the scattered roosting habits of this species and because data is lacking or scarce in many parts of its distribution. However it is known populations have decreased and this bat is no longer considered common. The southeastern bat classfied as Vulnerable both Globally and Nationally and is Subnationally Critically Imperiled. The southeastern bat is considered rare in South Carolina and is designated as threatened or “in need of management”. This species is a Highest Priority species in South Carolina.

Tricolored bat (Perimyotis subflavus)

Tricolored
A healthy hibernating tri-colored bat (Perimyotis subflavus). Larisa Bishop-Boros Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/createCommonsLicense)

Description: The tricolored bat is a common bat found throughout the forests of the eastern US, and is the second smallest bat found in South Carolina. It was formerly known as the eastern pipistrelle. While hibernating, this species is often found covered in condensation. Unfortunately, populations of tricolored bats have declined greatly due to the effects of white nose syndrome since 2006. The first case of WNS in South Carolina was confirmed on a tricolored bat found at Table Rock State Park in March of 2013. In 2014, two other cases on tricolored bats were confirmed, in Oconee and Richland counties. The tricolored bat is a small bat weighing 0.2 to 0.3 ounces and has a wingspan of 8 to 10 inches. An obvious identifying characteristic of this species is the pink color of the skin on the radius bone. The term “tricolored” refers to the yellowish-brown pelage whose hairs are dark at the base, yellowish-brown in the middle, and dark at the tips. The calcar is unkeeled, and the base of the underside of the interfemoral membrane is furred. The wing membranes are blackish, but the face and ears have a pinkish color. The tragus is straight, long, and rounded, and the feet are relatively large compared to body size.

Distribution: The tricolored bat is distributed from eastern Canada south through most of the eastern US and into Mexico, and west to Michigan, Minnesota and Texas. Before WNS was detected, the range of this species was expanding westward from South Dakota to Texas and New Mexico and northward into the central Great Lakes region. In South Carolina, they are distributed statewide and found in all four physiographic provinces.

Food habits: The tricolored bat is one of the earliest bats to emerge at night, and is thought to feed until midnight and again near dawn. This species has a relatively slow, erratic flight pattern, low wing loading, and a higher aspect ratio that reflect their longer, more pointed wings. Tricolored bats are considered a clutter-adapted species, but are also well adapted to foraging in open habitats, canopy gaps, edge habitats, and along waterways of forest edges. This species has been recorded feeding over the top of streamside vegetation and taller streamside trees.

Habitat: Tricolored bats are associated with forested landscapes, often in open woods and found over water and adjacent to water edges. In South Carolina, sparse vegetation and early successional stands were found to be the best predictor of foraging habitat use by tricolored bats.

Population status: The tricolored bat is ranked Globally Vulnerable, Nationally Vulnerable and Subnationally Unranked. The tricolored bat was considered relatively common throughout the state, however hibernating populations have recently been affected by WNS and are currently in decline. This species is listed as a Highest Priority species in South Carolina.

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