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April 24, 2009

'Bat gate' protects mammals at Stumphouse Mountain

Contractors with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources recently protected both the tunnel and its inhabitants by installing a "bat gate" just inside the mouth of Middle Tunnel at Stumphouse Mountain in northern Oconee County.

A recent survey by Mary Bunch, S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife biologist, found that about 130 bats—mainly Eastern pipistrelles and a handful of endangered Rafinisque's big-eared bats—call the Middle Tunnel home.

"That number will grow now with this additional protection." Bunch said.

Installing the gate took two days labor from employees of Bat Works, a South Dakota specialty firm, which wedged steel beams into place. The gate allows the bats to fly past it from their cave roosts, but doesn't allow humans to enter.

The Rafinesque's big-eared bat is a South Carolina endangered species, according to Bunch, while the Eastern pipistrelles are fairly common. Protecting bats with such gates is common, said Joe Tigner, owner of Bat Works, who builds gates and works nationwide on other bat projects.

"The reason we build gates is so they don't become endangered," Tigner said. "It's a way of protecting them. They have very low reproduction rates." Preventing disruption by humans in the winter increases bat survival.

At least six species of bats live in the Stumphouse Mountain area: Northern long-eared bats, Eastern pipistrelles, red bats, Rafinesque's big-eared bats, little brown bats and big brown bats.

A single bat can eat nearly its entire weight in insects each night, according to Tigner. "In the Southeast, all our bats are insectivores," he said. "They aren't aggressive, unless you're an insect."

DNR protects and manages South Carolina’s natural resources by making wise and balanced decisions for the benefit of the state’s natural resources and its people.

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