Virginia Big-eared Bat


This bat is a subspecies of the Townsend's big-eared bat, an inhabitant of the Western United States. This disjunct subspecies is found in small, scattered populations in Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Virginia, with over half the known population found in West Virginia. These bats require caves for rearing their young in summer and for hibernation in winter. Surveys conducted by WRS biologists monitor known summer and winter populations and search for additional colonies. Eleven major summer colonies, totaling about 6,200 adult females of this species, have been found in West Virginia. Nearly 7,500 Virginia big-eared bats of both sexes have been located hibernating in the State's caves. Virginia big-eared bats prefer caves in karst regions (areas underlain with limestone bedrock and many caves and sinkholes) dominated by oak-hickory or beech-maple-hemlock forest. These bats usually hibernate in tight clusters near entrances of caves that are well-ventilated and where temperatures range from 32 to 54 degrees F. In summer, maternity colonies are found in the relatively warm parts of caves.

This nonmigratory bat resides in caves year round. Mating occurs in fall and winter, and females store sperm over winter. Ovulation and fertilization take place in spring shortly after females arouse from hibernation. In summer, females congregate to form what are known as maternity colonies where they bear their young. It is not known where most males spend the summer. Each female gives birth to a single pup in June. Young can generally fly within three weeks. Moths are the most important prey of Virginia big-eared bats. Human disturbance is probably the biggest factor contributing to the decline of these bats. Disturbance during hibernation causes bats to lose stored fat reserves, and repeated disturbance can cause the bats to die before spring (when insect prey are again available). If female bats are disturbed during the maternity season, they may drop their young to their deaths or the whole colony may abandon a roost for a less suitable location.

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