Written by: Steph Dreessen
It’s dark, buggy, quiet, and serene. We’re in the middle of nowhere, yet somewhere along the Kansas and Oklahoma border. We’ve been waiting for the bats to emerge for about 30 minutes, when we finally see one. Dr. Kloepper told us it was most likely a Townsend bat, which roost nearest the cave mouth. She based it on the behavior of the time the bat emerged as well as the fleeing behavior when the bat was outside of the cave. We also saw some Big Brown bats, after the Townsend but before the Mexican Free-tailed bats. Then another few minutes went by with more insect buzzes, along with some false hope of us trying to see what wasn’t really there. To be honest, I didn’t think the bats would come at first. We weren’t hearing nor seeing anything that we’ve read to be common before the emergence in the literature.
Then I heard the flapping. It sounded like fabric being whipped around in the wind. It was awesome to say the least. The experience of the emergence through video cannot compare to what it’s like in reality. It was interesting that the bats didn’t emerge all at once, but rather they would come out of the cave in groups. We could see them circling in the vestibule (a big open area right at the beginning of the cave) and then once a large enough group to their liking was formed, they came rushing out. It was exciting to see how many bats were in the cave!
Then this morning, Dr. Kloepper and I took a stroll through the cave to show me the different caverns and where the bats roost. We were all suited up in our Tyvec suits with our respirators and head lamps on and ready. Right away we saw some Townsend bats hanging from the ceiling no more than 50 feet from the mouth of the cave. As we traveled deeper into the cave we saw a Big Brown bat hanging isolated in the middle of the ceiling. When we traveled a little farther into the cave, we couldn’t see them, but man o’ man could we hear them. Lots of chips and squeaks! We went into the main cavern where the Mexican Free-tailed bats roost and that took my breath away. I stood there for a second just taking it all in. Dr. Kloepper kept her head lamp swaying from side to side so I could see all the cave had to offer. That, and to keep the disturbance of the bats with a bright light to a minimum.
We walked in farther to get a better look at how much father the cave goes, which we couldn’t see or even determine where the back wall was located. As we walked, Dr. Kloepper told me to crouch, as in that position the bats would be less likely to run into me. Not even two seconds after she told me, I felt a bat hit my right shoulder and then leap off. Don’t worry, we’ve taken every safety precaution there is to prevent any detrimental contact between humans and bats. I was surprised at how little I was flinching in the cave, but the fun had to come to an end. We headed out, decontaminated EVERYTHING that touched or might’ve touched anything that came in contact with the cave, and set up our equipment for the night.