By Maya Fenyk, 8th grader
Me with my bat box installed on the roof of a building in downtown New Brunswick
The plight of the Indiana Bat has been on my radar since 2015, when I first researched this species as part of a blog series I wrote about endangered species in the Lower Raritan Watershed. At that time I became aware of several obstacles the bats face, including development of their natural habitats, overcrowding of colonies due to lack of habitat, increased exposure to predators (due to unsubstantial habitat cover) and White Nose Syndrome. This year, as I started my 8th grade service project, I knew I wanted to do something to help the bats. The thing was, I had no idea where to start.
Originally, building a bat box was not even on my mind. I thought I was either going to plant trees that the bats could roost in, or do an outreach campaign to raise awareness on the bat’s plight. It seemed however that it would be difficult to find the exact right place to plant trees, and it would take too long for them to grow. I also felt that general outreach would not make a specific measurable impact. As I continued my research I came across a Youth Service Action article that listed 10 different projects to do to help the environment. Building a bat box was on the list. I thought “Perfect! What’s better to help the bats than to build a safe habitat?”
I downloaded bat box building instructions from the National Wildlife Federation, raised money to fund the project, and reached out to different entities to gain permission to install my bat box on their property. I had three possible sites in mind, two on New Brunswick park land and one on private property – all sites known to have bat activity. The City of New Brunswick never returned my emails or phone calls, but the landlord of an apartment complex gave me permission to install the bat box on the roof of his building.
After securing permissions, I purchased supplies from Home Depot and constructed the bat box with help from my uncle. The building process of the bat box took just a few hours; I hand cut the wood, stained the wood with a non-toxic dark stain, assembled the bat box and painted the box. The whole process took less time than I thought, and I waited two weeks to install the box on April 17th. I decided to wait to install the bat box on April 17th because the 17th is National Bat Awareness Day.
I had an amazing time completing the project, and I am very glad I built the bat box, because it helps address a very serious local environmental issue. I hope my act of service inspires you to also perform service in your local community.
by Maya Fenyk (age 11), LRWP youth consultant and “Endangered & Threatened Species” series contributor
Hello! I am Myosis Sodalis, but you can call me Clementine the Indiana Bat. I am an endangered species, which means that I am likely to become extinct. Because of my endangered status, my habitat is considered “critical.” This means that special efforts are supposed to be taken to protect the important characteristics of where I live. I live in caves and roosts throughout the central part of the United States and the East Coast, including parts of New Jersey and the Lower Raritan Watershed.
Clementine, the Indiana Bat (drawing by Maya Fenyk)
Some people are scared of me (and of bats in general), but they shouldn’t be. Bats do a lot of work for humans! We are great at pest control, pollination and spreading seeds. Farmers especially appreciate what we do. And if you think about how many pesky mosquitos we eat every night you will start to appreciate us, too! Even though we help out in so many ways there are a lot of issues that make it hard for me and my friends to survive and to do our important jobs. There are lots of threats to our survival – like development near caves and old mines (the places that we stay during hibernation), deforestation of our summer roosts, the use of pesticides, and White Nose Syndrome (WNS). WNS is really scary – it is a fungus that grows on our bodies that leads to starvation and to our freezing to death. Did you know that there are things that YOU can do to help protect me and my habitat? There are things you can do that will make it so that my friends and I can survive and continue to do the pest removal and farming work that helps you humans out!
Before I tell you how you can help out, you should first know a few things about me, like where I live and what I look like. I’m a relatively small bat, only 3.5 inches long. But I have a ginormous wingspan of 10.5 inches! I have black eyes, big ears, a pink nose and very short toe hairs. I also have very strong ridged calcar (the cartilage between my wing joints). I really like to find secret and protected areas to stay with the rest of my maternity colony during the winter months. The maternity colonies – in abandoned mines or caves – are wonderful happy places. I have a lot of friends there. I’m a mommy bat, and the other mommy bats and I work together to keep our babies safe and fed. Unfortunately, over the years a lot of development near caves and old mines has made it really hard for me and my friends to meet together in the large mines or caves that allow us to share the protections of maternity colonies. This means that I often have to find isolated caves to live in, and when I go out to hunt food I have to leave my babies alone without my friends to help me watch over them. As a result my babies end up as easy prey for predators including snakes, owls and raccoons. Development has also affected our summer habitat.
When my kids become juveniles they need time outside of the cave to mature and to learn to hunt bugs and to live on their own. But deforestation and removal of our trees has led to fewer and fewer places for us to safely spend our summers. I do have one favorite summer home on the banks of the Raritan River in New Brunswick – I know that there are protections in place there that keep municipal maintenance crews out of my home during the crucial summer months. Thanks to attention to state laws no one comes in to bother me and my kids!
Indiana Bat Habitat in New Brunswick, NJ (image: Heather Fenyk)
Even though we might not have humans coming directly into our summer homes we still have to deal with poisoned food. That’s right – the White Nose Syndrome I told you about is most directly linked to eating bugs that are sick from pesticides that you humans put on your fields and lawns. WNS creates a fungus that makes my hair fall out, and that covers my nose and makes it hard to eat. And when my hair falls out I might freeze during the winter! Other ways that WNS is spread is by coming into contact with gear that humans carry from cave to cave when they explore our homes.
There are things that you can do to help protect me. These include protecting my habitat, including my winter and summer roosts. My summer roost is in the inside of a dead oak so it is very important that you don’t cut down dead trees unless they are diseased. Not only could that decomposing tree in your backyard be MY home, it is also important to the health of the soil to have the decomposing plant matter enrich the soil. And keep my summer roost clean! But only clean-up during winter months (November through March) so you don’t disturb me while I’m roosting. Please respect my winter roost, too. My pups are experiencing their first hibernacula in our winter roost – a cave. My pups are trying to conserve energy for when it becomes warmer and are very vulnerable if I have to go out to hunt for bugs to feed them. You should know not to come into my cave, and if you do at least clean your gear before you do because WNS can be spread from cave to cave on the gear of humans.
Please clean up my habitat! (Image: Heather Fenyk)
Other ways you can help save my species is to stop using pesticides in your garden, stop cutting down trees and leave the wild as it should be. It’s great to meet you – please look for me at twilight when I’m out hunting bugs. The Lower Raritan Watershed is an especially good place to find me during the summers – it is the middle ground for my long range from Michigan to North Carolina. And if you see me or any of my friends please contact the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership to let them know. They are working to document Indiana Bat sightings to help to protect our habitat. Now please excuse me. I must go prepare to move for it is the time of year where we are readying our juveniles to head to our summer roost. Clementine the Indiana Bat signing off!