One of the world’s most historic bat colonies – little brown myotis that revealed their unique biosonar system to pioneering bat researcher Donald R. Griffin – has been evicted from its longtime home in a 321-year-old building, the Boston Globe reports.
About 1,000 of the bats spent their summers in the attic of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Meeting House at the town of Mashpee on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The tribe said the bats were stalling plans for a $425,000 renovation of the Indian Meeting House, which was built in 1684, and wanted them gone.
Initial plans called for their extermination, the newspaper said, but area residents convinced the tribe to invest $10,000 in a humane exclusion. “A wildlife management specialist sealed holes in the building and installed one-way bat doors. The attic was emptied over several weeks, as bats left at night to feed on insects and were unable to reenter in the morning,” wrote reporter Jenna Russell.
“Bats have never been among the most beloved creatures,” Russell wrote, “but because of their meaning to science, the Mashpee bats are held in unusual regard.” Efforts to save them were inspired by “a small group of animal scientists who considered the Mashpee bats a living historical treasure.”
The Indian Meeting House colony was a key ingredient in the groundbreaking research of the 1930s and ’40s by Griffin, a renowned Harvard biologist. Most notably, he documented how the bats navigate by using echolocation – a remarkably sophisticated and efficient natural sonar system.
Griffin first observed the bats in the 1930s, the Globe said, and was still making nighttime visits to the meeting house a year or two before his death in 2003 at age 88. He placed bands on some of the bats and found that some of his tagged bats showed up the following winter in Vermont, “proving their ability to travel long distances.” Other tagged bats were found alive 20 years later, demonstrating the unusual longevity of the flying mammals.
Now that the bats have been evicted, their whereabouts are unknown. Scientists said the best chance to preserve the bat colony would have been to provide bat houses nearby as replacement habitat. Tribal leaders rejected that expense, the newspaper said.
However, Renee Fudala, a Mashpee resident who described herself as a naturalist, subsequently used a $200 grant from the town’s Conservation Commission to erect two small bat boxes on a 16-foot pole near the meeting house, the Globe said. No bats had moved in after several days, but bats often need weeks or months (sometimes even years) to inhabit bat houses.
Meanwhile, Bat Conservation International is working with local conservationists on tentative plans to install a larger bat house that could accommodate all the displaced bats.