With Halloween just around the corner, and thoughts of the creepy and macabre in the air, Pest Gnome put out a listing of the Best States for Bat Lovers in honor of National Bat Week, October 24 through October 31, 2023. Tennessee came in at number 12. Because Tennessee is home to 20% of the caves in the country, the state has a large population of bats.
While most people think of vampire bats during this time of year — and they do exist — there are none in Tennessee. Tennessee is home to 15 species of bats, including the Little Brown Bat, Southeastern Bat, Gray Bat, Northern Long-Eared Bat, Indiana Bat, Eastern Small-Footed Bat, Silver-Haired Bat, Tri-Colored Bat, Big Brown Bat, Eastern Red Bat, Seminole Bat, Hoary Bat, Evening Bat, Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bat, and the Brazilian Free-Tailed Bat. There are 48 species of bat found in the continental United States and 1,400 species in the world.
According to the United States Geological Survey, those looking for vampire bats will have to go to Central or South America, or Texas. “…[O]nly a single specimen has been recorded for the United States in extreme southwest Texas. Vampire bats do not suck blood–they make a small incision with their sharp front teeth and lap up the blood with their tongue. Vampire bats in Mexico and South America feed on the blood of livestock such as cattle and horses, as well as deer, wild pigs, and even seals.”
Bats range in size from the tip of one’s thumb to the size of a small fox with a six-foot wingspan, although most bats are small. No bigger than a mouse.
Because of the book “Dracula,” and other tales of terror, bats have long gotten a bad rap, much like black cats. But, they are the only mammal that can sustain flight, and they are very important to the fruit and other industries as they are, like bees, pollinators. They also get rid of pesky insects like mosquitoes, eating several times their weight in bugs in one night.
“North America’s largest urban bat colony is found on the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas,” says globalanimal.org. “It is home to an estimated 1,500,000 Mexican Free-Tailed bats. This colony of bats eats approximately 10,000 to 30,000 [pounds] of insects each night. It is estimated 100,000 tourists visit the bridge annually to watch the bats leave the roost at twilight.”
Texas is not the only place bats draw tourists, the same can be said for Tennessee. There are a number of caves that house bats in Middle Tennessee. Two safe havens, Hubbard’s Cave in Warren County and Nickajack Cave in Marion County, are maintained by the Nature Conservancy and Tennessee Wildlife Resources, respectively.
“Hubbard’s Cave is a 50-acre natural area…ecologically significant because it serves as a hibernaculum for two federally endangered bat species, the gray bat (Myotis grisescens) and the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis),” says the Tennessee Department of Conservation and Environment website. “The cave is known to be the largest gray bat hibernaculum in Tennessee with over 100,000 bats observed here. Many other bat species use this cave as well… Consequently, the cave entrances have been gated to prevent disturbance of the bats during their hibernation.”
Hubbard Cave is closed to visitors, but from May until mid-September bats can be viewed from a distance at dusk as they leave the cave to feed. Likewise, Nickajack Cave is also closed to the public, but bats can be watched from a viewing stand.
“Bats can be seen from [the] viewing platform each evening at Nickajack Cave between late April and early September,” says the Tennessee River Valley Geotourism website. “Biologically, Nickajack Cave is one of the most important caves in the Tennessee Valley, serving as a maternity roost for the gray bat. Pregnant females arrive in spring to give birth to a single pup. Pockets in the cave ceiling trap warm air, which provides just the right temperature for developing baby bats.”
Human disturbance is one of the most significant reasons for decline of this species, the website goes on to say. The Tennessee Valley Authority fenced Nickajack Cave in 1981 to protect the bats, and in 1992 Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency designated Nickajack as Tennessee’s first non-game wildlife refuge.
When rating the different states for bat friendliness, Pest Gnome compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on three categories. More specifically, we looked at each state’s number of bat species, viewing sites, bat rescues, and wind turbines, among eight total metrics.
The study looked at wind turbines because wind turbine blades kill hundreds of thousands of bats every year, and no one knows why. Research is being done on ways to cut down on their destruction by wind turbines.
Various organizations look out for bat welfare in Tennessee, but it missed top ten status in the analysis because there are no bat rescues or rehabilitation facilities in the state.
Individuals can help save bats from their dwindling population by building bat houses, having a wildlife-friendly yard, and learning more truths about bats instead of believing old wives’ tales and tales of terror about them.